Canadian Diplomats Hit by Cuba Illness Feel ‘Abandoned’

A group of Canadian diplomats who left the embassy in Cuba after suffering unusual health symptoms say their foreign ministry has abandoned them, the Globe and Mail newspaper reported on Monday.

Canada said in April it would remove the families of staff posted to Havana, where both Canadian and U.S. diplomats have complained of dizziness, headaches and nausea.

The diplomats complained that the foreign ministry — unlike

the U.S. State Department — had said very little about the matter in public and did not appear to be making their case a priority. Getting specialized medical care has been difficult, they added.

“We did not expect to be abandoned, or more precisely, sacrificed — that’s how we’re feeling now,” the paper quoted one of them as saying.

Several of those affected believe Ottawa has said little in public because it wants to maintain friendly relations with Cuba, the Globe added.

An official at the Canadian foreign ministry did not respond  directly when asked about the diplomats’ complaints that they had been abandoned, but said the situation was very difficult.

“It is really an unprecedented type of incident, which has a lot of uncertainty. Our response to it has evolved since we first became aware of it,” said the official, adding that Ottawa had done its best to make medical care available.

The official requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

U.S. and Cuban officials met at the State Department in September to discuss the mysterious health problems. The United States has reduced embassy staffing in Cuba from more than 50 to a maximum 18.

NBC News said in September that U.S. officials believe the health problems may have been caused by sophisticated electromagnetic weapons.

The Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO) — the union representing rank and file diplomats — said the initial government reaction had been inadequate, in part because no one had experience of such a problem.

“Everyone is worried because if you don’t know what something is, and it’s unpredictable, nobody can say for sure that (it) isn’t going to happen again,” PAFSO president Pamela Isfeld said in a phone interview. “I totally do not blame them for being very unhappy with this.”

Adam Austen, a spokesman for Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, said she was deeply troubled by the health problems the diplomats were experiencing.

Migration at Top of Agenda of Spanish PM’s 1st Morocco Visit

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez urged greater cooperation on migration while making his first visit Monday to Morocco, a jumping-off point for a growing number of migrants trying to reach Spain and get a foothold in Europe.

Spain is one of the North African kingdom’s strongest European allies, and enhanced collaboration on all levels was a focus of Sanchez’s visit. It was among the topics discussed at a lunch hosted by Moroccan King Mohammed VI, the official MAP news agency said.

Controlling migration from Morocco to Spain was the focus of Sanchez’s talks with Moroccan Prime Minister Saad Eddine El Othmani.

“Migration is a shared responsibility, and we need to strengthen our cooperation,” Sanchez said at their joint news conference.

El Othmani said Morocco “is doing everything in its power” to fight illegal immigration, but insisted the complex issue “cannot be solved solely by the security approach.”

“Despite the importance of security, we must focus on the development of countries of departure in Africa,” Othmani said.

Many migrants in Morocco who embark for Spain are sub-Saharan Africans.

Moroccan authorities say the kingdom prevented 65,000 migrants from crossing to Spain in 2017. However, Morocco says it cannot be the region’s immigration police.

Morocco’s place as a point of passage has grown with Italy’s refusal to take in migrants who try to cross the Mediterranean Sea from Libya. The Libyan coast guard, with help from the Italian government, increasingly has intercepted flimsy boats launched by migrant smugglers.

Migrants head to northern Morocco with the aim of crossing the Strait of Gibraltar to Spain or climbing over high fences to reach the Spanish enclaves in North Africa, Ceuta and Melilla.

Nearly 47,500 migrants arrived in Spain by sea since the start of the year, while 564 died or went missing while attempting the voyage, according to the International Organization of Migration.

Morocco, along with Tunisia and Algeria, has refused to serve as an immigration reception and processing center, an idea proposed by the European Union. Morocco instead wants more EU funding to help manage migration across its borders.

Morocco is scheduled to host an international U.N.-sponsored conference on migration on December 10-11.

French Universities to Offer More Courses in English to Attract Foreign Students

France wants to boost the number of foreign students at its universities by more than half over the next decade and will offer more courses taught in English to attract them.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, announcing the plan on Monday, said increasing the number of foreigners studying in the country would help build French influence overseas.

Home to centuries-old universities such as the Sorbonne in Paris and some leading business schools, France is the world’s top non-English speaking student destination, but it ranks behind the United States, Britain and Australia.

The number of foreign students at French universities fell by 8.5 percent between 2011 and 2016 and the country has seen increased competition from Germany, Russia, Canada and China, the prime minister’s office said.

“Many countries are already building global attractivity strategies, linking studies, the job market, tourism, which explains the influence of Asia or monarchies in the Gulf,” Philippe said in a speech unveiling the strategy. “In this field just as in other economic ones, the world’s balance of power is shifting. That’s why we need to welcome more foreign students.”

Under the plan, France will simplify student visa regulations but will also increase tuition fees for students outside the European Economic Area in order to be able to provide better facilities. However, fees will still be much lower than in Britain and other neighboring countries.

From March 2019, foreign graduates with a French master’s degree will be able to get a residence visa to look for work or set up a business in France.

“We are constantly compared, audited, judged among 10 other possible destinations. In an age of social media, no one can rest on its reputation only,” Philippe said.

French officials said current fees of around 170 euros ($195) a year for a bachelor’s degree in France or 243 euros for a masters’ — the same as those paid by French students — was interpreted by students in countries like China as a sign of low quality.

From September 2019, non-European students will be charged 2,770 euros annually to study for a bachelor’s degree and 3,770 euros a year for masters and PhDs.

“That means France will still subsidize two thirds of the cost of their studies,” Philippe said. “And the fees will remain well below the 8,000 euros to 13,000 euros charged by the Dutch or the tens of thousands of pounds paid in Britain,” he said.

Some of the extra revenue will be used to boost the number of scholarships offered by the foreign ministry.

The number of courses taught in English, which have already been increased fivefold since 2004 to 1,328, will be boosted further, Philippe said.

More French classes will also be on offer for foreign students and student visa applications will be made available online.

US, UK Clash With Russia at OPCW Over New Investigative Team

The U.S. and Western powers on Monday clashed with Russia and others over whether the global chemical weapons watchdog could start apportioning blame for poison gas and nerve agent attacks.

At a heated session of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons’ annual conference, both sides bitterly fought over a June decision for the group to set up a new investigative team which could name the perpetrators of chemical attacks — a major change in the group’s rules.

Russia and China said the widely-backed June decision to allow the organization to identify those responsible should be reviewed to ensure it didn’t go beyond the OPCW mandate.

The U.S. ambassador to the watchdog, Kenneth Ward, complained that “a tsunami of chemical weapons” had been used this year, especially in Syria, an ally of Russia, and called Moscow’s attempts to undo the decision “pungent hypocrisy.”

Britain and its allies also have accused Moscow of using a Soviet-era nerve agent in an attempted assassination of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury earlier this year. Russia denies the allegation.

Britain’s ambassador, Peter Wilson, said a Russia-Chinese proposal to review the decision “is clearly designed to obstruct and delay implementation” of the decision.

Russian envoy Alexander Shulgin said the new team would wield unlawful powers within the OPCW and on Monday called for an expert group to assess the viability of the decision, something the U.S. insisted would hamstring the development of the team. Wilson said that the Russian move would “undermine” plans to set up the team.

Last June, an 82-24 vote among OPCW members provided more than the necessary two-thirds majority to give the group the mandate to name the parties it found responsible for chemical attacks.

With Russia’s opposition on Monday, Ward said Russia and China made “an attempt to re-litigate what happened in June.” He said that both nations “are trying to turn back the clock of history.”

One allegation still being investigated by weapons inspectors is the suspected chemical attack in April in the Syrian town of Douma. An interim report said that weapons inspectors found “various chlorinated organic chemicals” at the site of the alleged Douma attack.

The OPCW made headlines last month when Dutch authorities revealed that they had foiled an alleged plot by Russian spies to hack into the organization’s Wi-Fi network using equipment stashed in the trunk of a rental car parked at a hotel next to the OPCW headquarters. Russia denied any wrongdoing.

Migrants at Balkan Border Face New Obstacle: Cold

It is biting cold near the border of Bosnia and Croatia, and nothing really keeps the migrants camping there stay warm.

After a mild autumn, the weather in the Balkans gave way to gray skies, plunging temperatures and cutting wind. The approach of another winter announced tougher times for migrants stuck in the region while trying to reach western Europe.

Hundreds of migrants are staying in make-shift camps with no heating or facilities. Some are fleeing wars in their home countries in the Middle East Africa or Asia. Others have been driven away by poverty, lack of freedom or hope for the future.

One such camp is in the town of Velika Kladusa, in northwestern Bosnia, only about a kilometer (mile) from the heavily guarded border. Dozens of migrants spend days and nights here trying to cross into Croatia, a European Union member nation a short distance away that holds the promise of easier travels.

Migrants turn to Bosnia to avoid more heavily guarded routes elsewhere in the Balkans. As a European Union member, Croatia is easier to pass through toward wealthy EU countries where they hope to find work and start new lives. Many spend months, or sometimes even years, on the road.

After their long journeys, many migrants don’t have winter shoes, warm socks, caps or gloves. They wrap themselves tightly in blankets, leaving their faces barely visible. At lunch time, they line up for warm meals provided by aid groups. They eat among garbage-strewn, grim-looking tents made of nylon, ropes and cardboard.

At night, the travelers gather around camp fires warm up or cook. Some say their hands have turned blue from cold and they don’t know what to do.

Bosnian authorities have been struggling to accommodate migrants who arrive in a country still recovering from a brutal 1992-95 ethnic war. Some of the wayfarers refuse to go to government-run camps, choosing to take their chances at the border instead.

US Closes Busiest Mexico Border Crossing for Several Hours

The United States closed off northbound traffic for several hours at the busiest border crossing with Mexico to install new security barriers on Monday, a day after hundreds of Tijuana residents protested against the presence of thousands of Central American migrants.

The U.S. also closed one of two pedestrian crossings at the San Ysidro crossing in a move apparently aimed at preventing any mass rush of migrants across the border.

The installation of movable, wire-topped barriers threatens to complicate life for Mexicans using San Ysidro, where about 110,000 people enter the U.S. every day in 40,000 vehicles.

Long lines backed up in Tijuana, where many people have to cross the border to work on the U.S. side.

Such inconveniences prompted by the arrival of the migrant caravan may have played a role in Sunday’s protests, when about 400 Tijuana residents waved Mexican flags, sang the Mexican national anthem and chanted “Out! Out!” referring to the migrant caravan that arrived in the border city last week.

Tensions have built as nearly 3,000 migrants from the caravan poured into Tijuana in recent days after more than a month on the road _ and with many more months likely ahead of them while they seek asylum in the U.S. The federal government estimates the number of migrants could soon swell to 10,000.

U.S. border inspectors are processing only about 100 asylum claims a day at Tijuana’s main crossing to San Diego. Asylum seekers register their names in a tattered notebook managed by migrants themselves that had more than 3,000 names even before the caravan arrived.

Some Tijuana residents supported the migrants, but others accused the migrants of being messy, ungrateful and a danger to Tijuana. They also complained about how the caravan forced its way into Mexico, calling it an “invasion.” And they voiced worries that their taxes might be spent to care for the group.

“We don’t want them in Tijuana,” protesters shouted.

Juana Rodriguez, a housewife, said the government needs to conduct background checks on the migrants to make sure they don’t have criminal records.

A block away, fewer than a dozen Tijuana residents stood with signs of support for the migrants. Keyla Zamarron, a 38-year-old teacher, said the protesters don’t represent her way of thinking as she held a sign saying: “Childhood has no borders.”

Most of the migrants who have reached Tijuana via caravan in recent days set out more than a month ago from Honduras, a country of 9 million people. Dozens of migrants in the caravan who have been interviewed by Associated Press reporters have said they left their country after death threats.

But the journey has been hard, and many have turned around.

Alden Rivera, the Honduran ambassador in Mexico,told the AP on Saturday that 1,800 Hondurans have returned to their country since the caravan first set out on Oct. 13, and that he hopes more will make that decision. “We want them to return to Honduras,” said Rivera.

The migrants’ expected long stay in Tijuana has raised concerns about the ability of the border city of more than 1.6 million people to handle the influx.

Tijuana Mayor Juan Manuel Gastelum has called the migrants’ arrival an “avalanche” that the city is ill-prepared to handle, calculating that they will be in Tijuana for at least six months as they wait to file asylum claims.Gastelum has appealed to the federal government for more assistance to cope with the influx.

Tijuana officials converted a municipal gymnasium and recreational complex into a shelter to keep migrants out of public spaces. The city’s privately run shelters have a maximum capacity of 700. The municipal complex can hold up to 3,000.

At the municipal shelter, Josue Caseres, 24, expressed dismay at the protests against the caravan. “We are fleeing violence,” said the entertainer from Santa Barbara, Honduras. “How can they think we are going to come here to be violent?”

Elsewhere on Sunday, a group of 200 migrants headed north from El Salvador, determined to also find safety in numbers to reach the U.S.

Edwin Alexander Gomez, 20, told AP in San Salvador that he wants to work construction in New York, where he hears the wages are better and the city is safer.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who sought to make the caravan a campaign issue in the midterm elections, used Twitter on Sunday to voice support for the mayor of Tijuana and try to discourage the migrants from seeking entry to the U.S.

Trump wrote that like Tijuana, “the U.S. is ill-prepared for this invasion, and will not stand for it. They are causing crime and big problems in Mexico. Go home!”

He followed that tweet by writing: “Catch and Release is an obsolete term. It is now Catch and Detain. Illegal Immigrants trying to come into the U.S.A., often proudly flying the flag of their nation as they ask for U.S. Asylum, will be detained or turned away.”

Haiti Protesters Demand President’s Ouster

A national holiday meant to honor the 215th anniversary of the battle of Vertieres, a major victory for Haiti’s slaves in the war for independence against the French army, was marked by anti-corruption protests and calls for the president’s ouster Sunday. 

Thousands took to the streets in the capital, Port-au-Prince and marched all around town shouting slogans, burning tires and in some instances flying black and red flags – in defiance of the country’s official red and blue banner. The black and red flag was replaced in 1986 when Haiti’s first democratically-elected president, Jean Bertrand Aristide, took power. 

A young man in a dress shirt with a rosary wrapped around his wrist told VOA Creole, “The blue and red (flag) gave us insecurity. Under the red and blue flag we can’t go to school. Under the red and blue flag inflation is sky high. Under the red and blue flag I can’t go where I need to go because it’s not safe. The president must leave as soon as possible.”

“We’re asking for the departure of the president because he is incapable of governing so he has to go,” another protester marching downtown told VOA Creole.

“We want justice!” another chimed in. Those words are the principal theme of the PetroCaribe protest movement. Protesters are demanding transparency from the government regarding the alleged misuse of $3.8 billion. The money, due to Haiti under the PetroCaribe oil alliances signed between Venezuela and Caribbean nations starting in June 2005, had been earmarked for infrastructure and social and economic projects.

According to reports, two people died during the protest in the capital and several others were injured after gunmen in unmarked cars fired into the crowd. Several protesters alleged in interviews with VOA Creole that policemen had been behind the wheel. But Michel Ange Gedeon, general director of Haiti’s national police force (PNH) denied that. He said police had done their utmost to control their use of force against protesters and had investigated the circumstances of the two confirmed deaths finding police were not involved.

Protests were smaller in other major cities such as Jacmel, Gonaives, St. Marc, Jeremie and Cape Haitien, but the anger expressed was similar.

“We’re in the street today because November 18 is a symbolic day. It was a decisive day for our ancestors – with the help of the gods – where they succeeded in uprooting the French forces. But today the same situation exists because even though we’re not enslaved – per se – our rights are being violated – so we’re in the streets asking to end this system… I’m talking about the kind of slavery that is political, economic and even social,” a protester in Gonaives told VOA Creole.

President Jovenel Moise began the day with the first lady and members of his cabinet at an official ceremony commemorating the armed forces, and laying a wreath at a monument on the historic battle’s anniversary. Traditionally, heads of state have traveled to the city of Vertieres in the north, where the battle occurred to lead official ceremonies there as well. Moise did not do that. Instead, he addressed the nation and called on citizens to work together to resolve the country’s problems.

“My brothers and sisters, the time for fighting is over. Today, it’s time to cooperate. Meaning it’s time to put our heads together, to cooperate to break the cycle of blackouts, of poverty which has caused some of you to forget who you really are. It’s time to cooperate to make a better nation we can be proud of for our children and our grandchildren,” he said. “We won’t forget our past. We understand clearly where we are, we will not forget.”

The plea seems to have fallen on deaf ears – more anti-corruption protests are planned for Monday.

Yves Manuel in Port-au-Prince, Wilner Cherubin in Jacmel, Yvan Martin Jasmin in Cape Haitian, Exalus Mergenat in Gonaives and Makenson Charles in Jeremie contributed to this report.








UK Foreign Secretary to Make First Visit to Iran

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt will visit Iran for the first time on Monday for talks with the Iranian government on issues including the future of the 2015 nuclear deal, his office said in a statement.

In May, U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned the deal, negotiated with five other world powers during Democratic president Barack Obama’s administration, and earlier this month the United States restored sanctions targeting Iran’s oil, banking and transportation sectors.

Hunt’s office said he would meet Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and would stress that the UK is committed to the nuclear deal as long as Iran sticks to its terms. He will also discuss European efforts to maintain nuclear-related sanctions relief.

“The Iran nuclear deal remains a vital component of stability in the Middle East by eliminating the threat of a nuclearized Iran. It needs 100 percent compliance though to survive,” Hunt said in a statement ahead of the visit.

“We will stick to our side of the bargain as long as Iran does. But we also need to see an end to destabilizing activity by Iran in the rest of the region if we are going to tackle the root causes of the challenges the region faces.”

Hunt will also discuss Iran’s role in the conflicts in Syria and Yemen, his office said, and press Iran on its human rights record, calling for the immediate release of detained British-Iranian dual nationals where there are humanitarian grounds to do so.

“I arrive in Iran with a clear message for the country’s leaders: putting innocent people in prison cannot and must not be used as a tool of diplomatic leverage,” he said.