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Misinformation on Cuba, again

‘Havana syndrome’ and Trudeau-as-the-son-of-Fidel non-stories are only the latest erroneous claims promoted to discredit Cuba

Latin America and the CaribbeanSocialismUSA Politics

Margaret Trudeau smiles as Cuban leader Fidel Castro holds her youngest son Michel after the Trudeaus arrived in Havana on January 26, 1976. Photo by Fred Chartrand/CP.

It appears as though Fox Nation, a subscription-based video service and companion to Fox News Channel, is soon to present a documentary on Canada-Cuba relations, emphasizing the close ties between the Trudeau family and Fidel Castro—and in particular the theory that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is the illegitimate son of the late Cuban leader.

This bizarre conspiracy theory has been refuted on several occasions. The physical impossibility—Margaret Trudeau did not meet Fidel Castro until Justin was five—seems to have been overlooked. Fox researchers supplied highly dubious “evidence” that Fidel might have impregnated Margaret Trudeau on a visit to the Caribbean when she is said to have visited Cuba.

And yes, while Justin Trudeau did provide an emotional tribute after the death of the Cuban leader in 2016, there is not a scintilla of proof that he is the son of Castro.

Sadly, Cuba is never far from conspiracy theorists. The issue of “Havana syndrome” and related “sonic attacks” (first noted in Cuba with a fanfare of negative publicity in 2016) was again recently resurrected—this time in a recent episode of CBS’s 60 Minutes. It offered highly contentious arguments to hint at Russian mischief afoot. A more balanced analysis, however, shows that the central argument is false.

In March 2023, for example, the US Director of National Intelligence noted that the “syndrome” was probably due to “preexisting conditions, conventional illnesses, and environmental factors”—and showed that there was no evidence of secret weapons or directed energy sources. Two years earlier a panel of experts had concluded that the “sonic attacks” were most likely the mating call of local crickets.

The National Intelligence Council rejected the idea that enemy operatives were responsible. Their research, which had been undertaken over several years, involving seven national intelligence agencies, examined almost 1,500 cases of people affected in 96 countries. Five of the national US agencies concluded that it was “very unlikely” that a foreign adversary was responsible for the symptoms.

The US National Institute of Health (NIH) carried out its own detailed studies between 2018 and 2022, concluding that there was no credible evidence to show any attack by a mysterious energy weapon. In fact, their study showed no significant differences between victims of the “Havana syndrome” and healthy government workers.

So, while the NIH five-year analysis and the detailed research carried out by seven leading US intelligence agencies have agreed that the people affected did indeed suffer distressing symptoms, the research shows that the causes were more likely due to a variety of factors, including undiagnosed conditions, environmental factors, stress, fatigue, and depression. As a result, in official terminology, “sonic attacks” are now referred to as “anomalous health incidents.”

Unfortunately, the “Havana syndrome” and the Trudeau-as-the-son-of-Fidel non-stories are only the latest erroneous claims promoted to discredit Cuba.

Some examples:

An angry Fidel Castro ordered the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in the wake of the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion.

No.

In the 1980s it was widely accepted by media that Cuban troops were actively fighting in Angola against the South African military because of orders from Moscow—since clearly Cuba was a pawn of the Soviet Union.

No.

The “embargo” placed upon Cuba in 1962, and strengthened with several key pieces of legislation since, in fact is a misnomer—since Cuba can freely trade with the United States.

No.

In his last week of office Donald Trump revoked a presidential decision of Barack Obama and placed Cuba on the list of countries allegedly supporting international terrorism (this is a position maintained by the Biden administration).

No. And no. In fact, Cuba has been the victim of terrorism since the early 1960s: over 3,000 Cubans were killed and 2,000 wounded in terrorist acts on the island. Moreover, in April 2020 a Cuban exile fired 32 shots from an AK-47 rifle at the Cuban embassy in Washington, and in September 23 two Molotov cocktails were also thrown at the embassy.

Sadly, most media coverage of Cuba is unbalanced and negative. And, with the impending election madness in the United States (and the disproportionate weight of Florida in that process), we should be prepared for more distortion and lies. Sad, but true.

John M. Kirk is Professor Emeritus of Latin American Studies at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, and the author/co-editor of several books on Cuba. The most recent is Contemporary Cuba: The Post-Castro Era (Rowman and Littlefield, 2023).

Stephen Kimber is an award-winning writer, editor, broadcaster and educator. A journalist for over 50 years, he is the author if 14 books (two fiction and 12 nonfiction), including the acclaimed What Lies Across the Water: The Real Story of the Cuban Five.

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