Cuba and U.S. Continue To Hold Bilateral Meetings on Various Issues

On January 12,  16 and 17, Cuba and the U.S. held bilateral meetings in Washington, D.C. to discuss cybersecurity, criminal matters and terrorism. No mention of these meetings was found in the U.S. State Department website or the U.S. media while the Cuban coverage was very terse.[1]

Cybersecurity

The Cuba Foreign Ministry’s statement briefly said that the parties agreed “on the importance to advance cooperation in this area and . . . to continue holding these technical meetings in the future” and that the “meeting was held in an ambiance of respect and professionalism.”

Criminal Matters

The Cuba Foreign Ministry merely said this “meeting was held in an ambiance of respect and professionalism. Both delegations shared the view on the usefulness of the meeting and agreed to maintain these talks in the future.”

Terrorism

The Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C. said the meeting’s “purpose was to advance cooperation in this area,” that “both countries agreed on the importance of [such] cooperation” and holding future meetings on the same subject and that “the meeting took place in a climate of respect and professionalism.”

Conclusion

While followers of U.S.-Cuba relations would like to know more about meetings like these, it is good to know that the two countries continue to hold discussions on important issues.

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[1]  Cuba Foreign Ministry, Cuban and Us Representatives hold meeting on Cybersecurity and the combat against Cybercrimes (Jan. 12, 2018); Cuba Foreign Ministry, Cuban and the United States hold talks on the cooperation in criminal matters (Jan. 16, 2018); Cuban Embassy, Authorities of Cuba and the USA exchange on confrontation with terrorism (Jan. 17, 2018); Washington and Havana talk about ‘prevention and confrontation’ to terrorism, Diario de Cuba (Jan. 18, 2018).

Is Cuba Concealing Bad Economic Data? 

The Cuban government  has not yet released 2016 data on the country’s gross domestic product, exports, money supply and debt even though in June-July 2017 it did release other statistical information. The government even failed to respond to a Reuters question in January 2018 as to when this 2016 information would be released. [1]

Many speculate that this omission is deliberate to facilitate the Cuban government’s claims in late December 2017 that the economy grew in 2017 by 1.6%[2] when Moody’s and the Economist’s Intelligence Unit had projected that the Cuban recession continued in 2017, while the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) had projected Cuba would have for 2017 an anemic growth of 0.5%.

“The abnormal delay in macroeconomic indicators for 2016 casts doubt on the official estimate of GDP growth in 2017,” said Carmelo Mesa-Lago , professor emeritus of economics at the University of Pittsburgh and author of numerous books on Cuba’s economy. This opinion was echoed by an anonymous Cuban economist, who said, “Whenever things are bad the response from the government is to hide information.”

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[1] Frank, Cuban economy even more opaque as data omitted from 2016 accounts, Reuters (Jan. 15, 2018); Havana omits economic data in its 2016 accounts, Diario de Cuba (Jan. 15, 2018); ONE, 2016 Statistical Yearbook of Cuba.

[2]  Cabrisas: The Economy grew 1.6% despite ‘adverse situations,’ Diario de Cuba (Dec. 21, 2017).

Cuba and the European Union Strengthen Their Relationship

In early January, Federica Mogherini, the  High Representative of the European Union (EU) for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, conducted an official visit to Cuba to celebrate and solidify the EU’s relationship with Cuba. The visit included her Magisterial  Lecture at the San Gerónimo School in Havana; meetings with President Raúl Castro, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez and other Cuban officials; and a concluding press conference.[1]

This visit followed the two parties December 12, 2016, signing of the Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement and its July 5, 2017, ratification by the European Parliament and the entry into effect of most of its provisions on November 1, 2017. [2] Its main chapters concern the following:

  • Political dialogue, addressing issues, such as human rights, small arms and disarmament, migration, drugs, fight against terrorism and sustainable development;
  • Cooperation and sector policy dialogue, including areas, such as human rights, governance, civil society, social and economic development, environment as well as regional cooperation;
  • Trade and trade cooperation, dealing with principles of international trade and covering cooperation on customs, trade facilitation, technical norms and standards, sustainable trade and investment.

Magisterial Lecture: “The EU and Latin America”[3]

 

Mogherini at San Gerónimo School 

Agreement approved in December 2016 : “With the new political dialogue agreement, we have the opportunity to elevate our relations to a level that truly represents the close historical, economic and cultural ties that unite Europe with Cuba. This agreement opens new opportunities to increase our trade, our investments and to promote common solutions to global challenges such as migration, the fight against terrorism, nuclear disarmament and climate change. One example is the new cooperation program to promote the use of renewable energies that we are going to start with Cuba, especially in rural and isolated areas.

Move forward with Cuba: “Even in the most difficult moments of our common history, European and Cuban citizens have never turned their backs on each other. There are so many things that unite us, so many common values, that’s why we know well that the best way to accompany the updating of Cuba’s system is with commitment and dialogue. We want to continue moving forward with Cuba and work for a better future. ”

Strong rejection of the U.S. embargo (blockade) : “The blockade is not the solution. We have said this to our American friends many times and we have affirmed it repeatedly in the United Nations. The only effect of the blockade is to worsen the quality of life of Cuban women, men and children. The blockade is obsolete, illegal and the EU will continue working to put an end to it.”

Influence of Cuba and the EU in the world: “Experiences teach us that if the European Union and Cuba work together we can have a positive influence around the world. Together we have worked in favor of peace in Colombia, in the fight against Ebola in Africa, in the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and in pursuit of achieving the sustainable development goals of the United Nations and the 2030 Agenda. ”

Response to Hurricane Irma:  “The assistance and support of the Cuban government to the victims of the hurricane were effective and professional, evacuating almost two million inhabitants to protect their lives. Europeans have contributed a humanitarian package to support the Caribbean countries, including nine million euros. We are facilitating monetary aid to contribute with shelter, food and tools to repair houses in the most affected areas of Cuba such as Villa Clara, Ciego de Ávila, Sancti Spíritus and Camagüey. With these resources we are also helping to recover affected agricultural areas.”

Strengthen the Cuba-EU dialogue on human rights: “We are working to formalize the dialogue between Cuba and Europe on human rights, which began in 2015. Although there are some differences in our respective positions, the openness and willingness to dialogue are always present.”

Common objectives: “The EU and Cuba may be geographically distant, but we have many things in common, not all, but many. We both believe in international collaboration and solidarity, we believe in the power of mediation and dialogue to solve all types of disputes. We believe that the only alternative to the current international disorder is a more cooperative, fairer and more united world order based on multilateralism and the United Nations system. We believe that sustainable development is the great challenge of this century and that the fight against inequalities throughout the world has a direct effect on our own security.”

The Cuban people have not and will not be alone in facing “those who want to build walls and close doors. Regardless of the changes in policy in Washington, the message I am bringing here is that Cuba’s friendship and relationship with the EU is here to stay. It’s solid, it’s stable and it’s reliable.”

Press Conference[4]

Mogherini opened by referring to the EU-Cuba”agreement of political dialogue and cooperation, which is the first legal agreement ever signed between the parties. We have raised our relationships to a new level. The EU is already the first commercial partner, the first investor, and the first partner for the development of Cuba. This agreement now opens new opportunities to increase our trade, our investments, and to promote solutions to global challenges such as immigration and climate change.”

“We will soon sign a new cooperation program for the use of renewable energies worth 18mn (Euros), another for sustainable agriculture of 21 million (Euros), and we will increase and expand the program of cultural exchanges and experts for 10 million (Euros).”

On February 28 in Brussels she and Foreign Minister Rodriguez will preside over the first joint council to discuss how we can further advance our cooperation in concrete projects.

“We are also working to formalize the dialogue between the EU and Cuba on human rights, a dialogue that we maintain in more than 40 countries. Our dialogue with Cuba on human rights began in 2015, and since then, this dialogue has allowed us to address the human rights situation both in Europe and in Cuba. There are differences in our respective visions, but openness and willingness to dialogue are always present within mutual respect.”

“We also have  agreed to intensify our cooperation in the area of ​​culture, in particular in 2018 the European Year of Cultural Heritage and with a view to the year 2019 when the 500th anniversary of the city of Havana will be celebrated. Our participation as a European Union is also planned at the book fair and there will be a new edition of the European film festival in June.”

Mogherini said that the EU is a “predictable and solid” partner that can help Cuba manage a political transition and slow, halting economic opening.”We are consistent and we do not have unpredictability in our policies, or sudden shifts,” in an obvious reference to President Trump’s reversal of some elements of President Barack Obama’s opening with Cuba.

The EU has a consolidated opposition to the U.S. embargo (blockade) of Cuba. “The foreign policy priorities and orientations of the EU are autonomous, independent. They are decided in Brussels by the 28 Member States, with the participation of the European Parliament that has supported the finalization of the agreement we have now with Cuba, and we follow our path.”

“We regret that the current U.S. administration has apparently changed policy towards Cuba. We are convinced – as we were one year ago and as we were two years ago, that it is in our European interest; it is in the Cuban interest and it is in the international interest at large, to have relations, to discuss issues of disagreement and to deepen and extend cooperation or partnership on issues that are of mutual interest. For instance, I mentioned climate change, migration which are issues on which the Sustainable Development Goals, the ONE agenda, on which we believe the European Union and Cuba can work well together and we remain convinced of that.”

“A delegation from the European Investment Bank is going to visit Cuba at the end of January to explore possibilities for working together.”

“The world is appreciating, in this moment, the value of having the EU as a solid, reliable, predictable partner. We have differences, but you can always know what to expect from the EU. We are consistent, we do not have unpredictability in our policies or sudden shifts.  The process we have launched two years ago of discussing, negotiating an agreement, was leading in a very solid manner to the signature of the agreement, the provisional entry into force of the agreement, the proceeding of ratifications. The might take time to decide but once it is decided it’s solid and there is no element of unpredictability.”

Conclusion

Mogherini expressed what every reasonable person should desire in every relationship, personal and international. The Trump Administration  hostile actions and rhetoric against Cuba has provided opportunities for the EU and other nations to expand their connections and relationship with Cuba comes at the expense of the U.S. economic and national interest.

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[1] Reuters, European Union Diplomat Visits Cuba to Strengthen Ties, N.Y. Times (Jan. 3, 2018); EU is interested in increasing economic operations with Cuba, says Mogherini, CubaDebate (Jan. 3, 2018); High representative of the European Union today begins an official visit to Cuba, Cubadebate (Jan. 3, 2018); Mogherini says the EU wants to strengthen economic and business cooperation with Havana, Diario de Cuba (Jan. 3, 2018); Concepción & Pérez, Federica Mogherini in Cuba: “The real strength lies in dialogue and cooperation,” CubaDebate (Jan. 3, 2018); Raúl receives European High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Granma (Jan. 5, 2018); Raúl received Federica Mogherini, CubaDebate (Jan. 4, 2018); Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla receives High Representative of the European Union (+ Video), CubaDebate (Jan. 4, 2018).

[2] EU, EU-Cuba relations, factsheet Previous posts about the EU-Cuba relationship are listed in the “Cuba & Other Countries” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

[3] Mogherini: the blockade is not the solution, Granma (Jan. 4, 2018); Federica Mogherini in Cuba: “the real strength lies in dialogue and cooperation,” CubaDebate (Jan. 3, 2018).

[4] Reuters, EU Presents Itself as Ally of Cuba in Face of US Hostility, N.Y. Times (Jan. 4, 2018); Remarks by High Representative/Vice President Federica Mogherini at the press conference during her visit to Cuba, EU External Action (Jan. 4, 2018); Mogherini: The EU has become Havana’s main trading partner, Diario de Cuba (Jan. 5, 2018); Federica Mogherini: “Cuba and the European Union have raised their relations to a new level,” CubaDebate (Jan. 4, 2018).

 

 

State Department’s New Travel Advisory System for Cuba and Other Countries          

On January 10, the U.S. State Department announced its new system for travel advisories for all other countries in the world.[1] The sources in footnote 1 describe this new system. Here are the highlights from a Department briefing.

General Information

First, the Department “needed to make it more accessible to people. And that’s why in November we went to a mobile-friendly design for our website. We also needed to make sure that the information was more easily understood, putting it into plain language, making it clearer why we were ranking countries, why we were citing them as a threat or a risk, and making that very obvious to people. And finally, making the information more actionable. We often got questions from people saying, ‘Well, I’ve read your Travel Warning, but what does it mean? What am I supposed to do?’”

“We have gone to a Travel Advisory for every country . . . . And within that Travel Advisory, we have gone to a four-level ranking system, starting with a Level 1, which is ‘Exercise normal precautions’ (e.g., Aruba);  Level 2, ‘Exercise increased caution’ (e.g., Jamaica); Level 3, ‘Reconsider travel’ (e.g., Cuba); and level 4, ‘Do not travel’” (e.g., Mexican states of Colima, Guerrero, Michoacán, Sinaloa and Tamaulipas due to crime).

“And for each country that has a Level 2 or above, we will specify what we think those risks or threats are, why is it that we’re telling people to consider – reconsider travel or to exercise caution or not to travel at all. And those risks and conditions and circumstances are going to be very clearly spelled out with icons – C for crime, T for terrorism, U for civil unrest, H for health issues, N for natural disasters, E for time-limited events such as elections or major sporting events, and O for other, which is our catch-all for the things that don’t fit into those other categories.”

 Travel Advisory for Cuba.[2]

The new Travel Advisory for Cuba  has the “Level 3: Reconsider Travel” ranking, rather than its previous warning not to go to Cuba. Here is what the new Advisory says:

“Reconsider travel to Cuba due to health attacks directed at U.S. Embassy Havana employees.”

“Over the past several months, numerous U.S. Embassy Havana employees appear to have been targeted in specific attacks. Many of these employees have suffered injuries as a consequence of these attacks. Affected individuals have exhibited a range of physical symptoms including ear complaints and hearing loss, dizziness, headaches, fatigue, cognitive issues, visual problems, and difficulty sleeping.”

“Because our personnel’s safety is at risk, and we are unable to identify the source of the attacks, we believe U.S. citizens may also be at risk. Attacks have occurred in U.S. diplomatic residences and at Hotel Nacional and Hotel Capri in Havana.”

“On September 29, 2017, the Department ordered the departure of non-emergency U.S. government employees and their family members to protect the safety of our personnel. Due to the drawdown in staff, the U.S. Embassy in Havana has limited ability to assist U.S. citizens”.

“Read the Safety and Security section on the country information page.”

“If you decide to travel to Cuba:

In the State Department briefing on the new system, the spokesperson said the following about Cuba:

  • “As we were putting all this together, we did a very careful assessment. We talked to all of our experts, and this is where we came out on Cuba.” The new Advisory “eliminated a reference to the responsibility of the Cuban government to prevent attacks on U.S. diplomats, which was included in the previous one.”
  • We “have significantly reduced our staffing at our embassy in Havana. Whenever we do that, traditionally we have always issued a Travel Warning, and that has not changed. This is reflected now in the Level 3 ranking that we’ve given to Cuba.” We now “have a very small footprint in our embassy in Havana. We have very, very limited consular resources and our ability to help people in an emergency is extremely limited. So that’s another factor that plays into it.”

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[1] State Dep’t, Fact Sheet: New Travel Advisories for U.S. Travelers (Jan. 10, 2018); State Dep’t, Briefing on the Department of State’s New Travel Advisories (Jan. 10, 2018).

[2] State Dep’t, Travel Advisory: Cuba—Level 3: Reconsider Travel (Jan. 10, 2018); Torres, State Department softens travel warning to Cuba, recommends ‘reconsidering’ trip, Miami Herald (Jan. 10, 2018).

U.S. Senate Hearing on Medical Problems of U.S. Diplomats in Cuba

On January 9, a subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing entitled “Attacks on U.S. Diplomats in Cuba: Response and Oversight.” The Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights, and Global Women’s Issues was chaired by Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL), a noted critic of normalization of U.S.-Cuba relation, who said the purpose of the hearing was “to establish the facts surrounding the attacks on U.S. diplomats in Cuba, and conduct oversight over the State Department’s handling of the attacks.”[1]

The witnesses were three officials of the U.S. State Department: Mr. Francisco Palmieri, Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs; Mr. Todd Brown, Diplomatic Security, Assistant Director, International Programs; and Dr. Charles Rosenfarb, Medical Director, Bureau of Medical Services.

The hearing started with lengthy opening statements by Rubio and the Ranking Member, Bob Menendez (Dem., NJ), both very critical of the Department’s response to these incidents or “attacks.” [2] The hearing itself focused on the following four topics:: (1) the nature of the injuries; (2) the cause of the injuries; (3) the perpetrator of the “attacks;” and (4) the State Department’s appointment of an accountability review board.

  1. The Nature of the injuries

 While the symptoms may vary, all 24  of the medically-confirmed cases  have described some combination of the following symptoms: sharp ear pain, dull headaches, tinnitus (ringing in one ea), vertigo, visual focusing issues, disorientation, nausea, extreme fatigue. Some have been diagnosed with mild brain injuries similar to what might happen from a concussion.

  1. The cause of the injuries[3]

In early July, the Bureau of Medical Services at the State Department convened a panel of academic experts to review case histories and the test results up to that point. And they arrived at [the following] consensus: ‘the patterns of injuries were most likely related to trauma from a non-natural source.”

Mr. Brown said investigators are considering possible causes other than a sonic attack, including a viral attack. He also said the possibility that someone deliberately infected people with a virus has not been ruled out. Dr. Rosenfarb testified that evidence suggest that( this is “not an episode of mass hysteria.”

Brown also said he would not rule out a sound component entirely. He said there had been an “acoustic element” associated with the sensations and feelings experienced by diplomats who fell ill. He said it’s possible the sound masked some other technology that caused the damage.

Dr. Rosenfarb said investigators are confident that something indeed caused medical harm to the Americans.

“Perplexing” was a frequent word in this discussion.

  1. Perpetrator(s)

Senator Rubio in a Fox News interview before the hearing said Havana is one of the most tightly controlled cities in the world. “There is no way you can conduct sophisticated attacks targeting American government officials in Havana without the Cuban government at least knowing about it.” [4] He repeated this opinion or conclusion at the start and at the end of the hearing.

  1. Accountability Review Board

Senator Rubio obtained admissions from the witnesses that a “serious injury” of at least one U.S. diplomat in Cuba happened no later than May 2017 and that the Secretary of State had not appointed an accountability review board within 60 days thereafter, as required by statute, and indeed had not yet done so.[5]

Acting Secretary Palmieri tried to remedy this apparent breach by testifying that Secretary Tillerson on December 11, 2017, had decided to convene such a Board and that the statutory required notice to Congress was “forthcoming.”

The same question came up later the same day at the Department’s Press Gaggle, [6] when the Department spokesperson, Under Secretary I. Steven Goldstein, initially said, “We are going to create, as we’ve said previously, an accountability review board, and I would expect that we would have the announcements of the chair and the members of the board available for release within the next week.” He then was pressed with a reporter’s question about Senator Rubio’s apparent contention that the Department and the Secretary had violated the law by not making an earlier appointment of such a board. Goldstein had the following response:

  • “We don’t agree with [the allegation that the law was violated].The assistant secretary today made clear [at the hearing], and we have said too, that it took us time to get the investigation in place. The investigation is continuing, and we believe that we . . . had the authority to determine when the accountability review board should be set in place. I think let’s not lose focus here. There’s 24 people that had injuries, and those people are receiving treatment, and we’ve had over 20 conversations with the people of Cuba. . . . [The] government investigators have been down four times; they’re going down again within the next few weeks. And so our primary goal at the present time is to find out why this occurred, to prevent it from happening again in Cuba and the embassy of Cuba or in any other place where American citizens are located.”
  • “It took time to set up the . . . board because we were hopeful that we would be able to know what occurred. . . . [T]his investigation has taken longer than we anticipated, . . . but it is now time to go forward. . . . I expect the names [for the Board] to be announced over the next several days.”

Conclusion

Only five of the nine subcommittee members attended the hearing, and the members will be submitting written questions to the witnesses, and there will be classified briefing of the subcommittee. Thus, the complete record will not be available until later. [7]

At the conclusion of the hearing, Rubio said that the following were two established facts: (1) 24 Americans had been harmed while in Cuba and (2) the Cuban government at least knew who was responsible for causing such harm. “The idea that someone could put together some sort of action against them, 24 of them, and the Cuban government not know who did it, it’s just impossible,” Mr. Rubio said. He noted that the Americans in Havana became sick just after Mr. Trump’s election, and speculated that rogue government officials from either Cuba or Russia had sought to create friction between Havana and the new administration in Washington.

Under Secretary Goldstein voiced a similar opinion by saying, “We believe that the Cuban government knows what occurred. So what we’d like to them to do is tell us what occurred.”

After the hearing, Cuba’s diplomat who has been intimately involved in U.S.-Cuba relations , Josefina Vidal, said  the hearing was chaired by two Senators (Rubio and Menendez)  “both with a vast record of work against better relations between Cuba and the United States, and the promoters of all kinds of legislative and political proposals that affect the interests of the Cuban and American peoples, and only benefit an increasingly isolated minority that has historically profited from attacks on Cuba.” She continued:

  • “From [the hearing’s] very title “Attacks on U.S. Diplomats in Cuba,” it was evident that the true purpose of this hearing . . . was not to establish the truth, but to impose by force and without any evidence an accusation that they have not been able to prove.”
  • “The State Department does not have any evidence that allows it to affirm that there have been attacks against its diplomats in Havana, or that Cuba may be responsible, or have knowledge of the actions of third parties.”
  • “I categorically reiterate that the Cuban government has no responsibility whatsoever for the health conditions reported by U.S. diplomats. Cuba never has, and never will, perpetrate such acts, nor has it or will it permit third parties to act against the physical integrity of any diplomat, without exception. The Cuban government is aware of its responsibilities and fulfils them exemplarily.”
  • “I affirm that the investigation carried out by Cuban authorities, the results of which the State Department and specialized agencies of the United States have had ample and systematic access to, has shown that there is no evidence at all regarding the occurrence of the alleged incidents and no attack of any kind has occurred.”
  • “Nothing presented by the government of the United States throughout this period, including today, provides evidence that the health problems reported by its diplomats have their origin or cause in Cuba.”
  • “We reject the politicization of this matter and the unjustified measures adopted by the United States government, with a high cost for our population, Cuban émigrés and the U.S. people. We also condemn the political manipulation of these events by anti-Cuban elements, who seek to aggravate the bilateral atmosphere, with the sole purpose of returning to a an era of confrontation, with negative consequences for both countries and the region.”
  • “Cuba is a safe, peaceful and healthy country for Cubans, for foreigners, for accredited diplomats and for the millions of people who visit us every year, including U.S.”[8]

This blogger’s opposition to Senator Rubio’s hostile approach to Cuba has been expressed in a prior post. That approach is against U.S. economic and strategic interests. It provides openings to Russia and the EU, for example, to pursue various developments with Cuba while the U.S. stands on the sidelines. Moreover, that approach contradicts Rubio’s stated desire to support Cuba’s emerging private sector and the Cubans investing and working in that sector.

Senator Rubio also erroneously stated that it is a fact that Cuba has one of the world’s most pervasive surveillance systems in the world and, therefore, has to know if some third-party has perpetrated attacks on U.S. (and Canadian) diplomats. At most that is an allegation or theory, which has been denied by Cuba. Rubio also ignores that whatever security and surveillance system Cuba has undoubtedly is prompted, at least in part, by the long history of U.S. hostility towards the Cuban Revolution, including covert or undercover efforts to promote regime change on the island. Moreover, in its responses to the medical problems of some of its diplomats in Cuba, the U.S. repeatedly has emphasized Cuba’s obligation under the Geneva Convention on Diplomatic Relations to protect other countries diplomats on the island, an obligation that presumably requires Cuba and other nations, including the U.S., to have some idea as to the whereabouts of  those diplomats.

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[1]  Senate Foreign Relations Comm., Subcommittee Hearing: Attacks on U.S. Diplomats in Cuba: Response and Oversight (Jan. 9, 2018); Reuters, U.S. Won’t Send Americans Back to Embassy in Havana Yet: U.S. Officials, N.Y. Times (Jan. 9, 2018); Assoc. Press, In Wake of ‘Attacks,’ Tillerson Not Returning Staff to Cuba, N.Y. Times (Jan. 9, 2018); Assoc. Press, US Considers Whether Virus Might Explain Attacks in Cuba, N.Y. Times (Jan, 9, 2018); Assoc. Press, US Says ‘Viral Attack’ Among theories in Cuba Illnesses, N.Y. Times (Jan. 9, 2018); Harris, U.S. to Open Formal Inquiry on Americans Sickened in Cuba, N.Y. Times (Jan. 9, 2018). In the days before the hearing, disputes erupted over what happened to the diplomats, as discussed in a prior post. (See also posts listed in the “U.S. Diplomats Medical Problems in Cuba” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries–Topical: CUBA.)

[2] Press Release, TOMORROW: Rubio Chairs Hearing on Attacks on U.S. Diplomats in Cuba (Jan. 8, 2017); Press Release, Menendez Opening Statement at Cuba Hearing (Jan. 9, 2018).

[3] Some Canadian diplomats in Cuba have suffered similar injuries or effects, but on January 10, a Canadian official said Canada has not reached any conclusions on the cause(s) of such ailments. Reuters, No Conclusion on Cause of Health Symptoms at Embassy in Cuba-Canada Official, N.Y. Times (Jan. 10, 2018).

[4] Press Release, Rubio Presses State Department on Response to Attacks on U.S. Diplomats in Cuba (Jan. 9, 2018).

[5] The State Department has a statutory obligation to “convene an Accountability  Review Board” . . .  not later than 60 days after the occurrence of an incident [of] . . . .any case of serious injury.” The Department also has an obligation to “promptly notify the Committee on International Relations of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate of the incident” of the convening of such a board. (22 U.S.C. §4831.) U.S.

[6] U.S. State Dep’t, Press Gaggle (Jan. 9, 2018).

[7] The subcommittee members in attendance were Senators Rubio and Tom Johnson (Rep., WI), Bob Menendez (Dem., NJ),), another Cuban-American critic of normalization; Tom Udall (Dem., NM); and Jeanne Shaheen (Dem., NH). The absentees were Jeff Flake (Rep., AZ), a supporter of normalization who was just in Cuba; Cory Gardner (Rep., CO); Johnny Isakson (Rep., GA); and Tim Kaine (Dem., VA). Two of these absentees (Flake and Gardner) and Menendez were attending the simultaneous White House conference on immigration.

[8] Vidal, Cuba is a safe, peaceful and healthy country, Granma (Jan. 10, 2018).

Additional Controversy Over What Happened to U.S. Diplomats in Cuba 

As discussed in prior posts, at least 24 U.S. diplomats and members of their families while working and living in Havana have suffered various ailments.[1] Controversy over what caused such ailments has surfaced just one day before a subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee  conducts a hearing on the subject.

One dispute is between Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL), the chair of the subcommittee, and another subcommittee member, Senator Jeff Flake (Rep., AZ), who as noted in a recent post, after a recent conference in Havana with Cuban officials, announced that both the U.S. and Cuba have no evidence of any  such “attacks.”

On January 7 Senator Rubio disagreed with this assessment with three messages on his Twitter account: “”It is a documented FACT that 24 U.S. govt officials & spouses and their spouses were victims of some kind of sophisticated attack while stationed in Havana.” He added in another tweet, “Any U.S. official briefed on matter knows full well that while method of attack still in question, that attacks & injuries occurred isn’t.” His third tweet said. “It is impossible to conduct 24 separate & sophisticated attacks against US Govt personnel in #Havana without #CastroRegime knowing about it.”[2]

Another dispute on the subject has occurred between the FBI and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.[3]

According to the Associated Press, the FBI’s Operational Technology Division has issued an interim report, dated January 4, that says after months of investigation and four trips to Cuba, there is no evidence that sound waves could have damaged the health of these people, but that the FBI will continue investigating the matter.

On January 5 Tillerson, however, said he’s not convinced that what he calls the “deliberate attacks” are over and that he still  believes that “the Cuban government, someone within the Cuban government can bring this to an end.”

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s subcommittee hearing.

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[1] See posts listed in the “U.S. Diplomats Medical Problems in Cuba, 2017”  section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

[2] Rubio Twitter Accountt (Jan. 7, 2018).

[3] Assoc. Press, Tillerson Tells AP Cuba Still Risky; FBI Doubts Sonic Attack, N.Y. times (Jan. 8, 2018)

No Evidence of ‘Sonic Attacks’ on U.S. Diplomats in Cuba

On January 6 in Havana U.S. Senator Jeff Flake (Rep., AZ) said there was no evidence of “sonic attacks’ on U.S. diplomats in Cuba.[1]

After a meeting that day with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez and Interior Ministry officials, Flake said that they had told him the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had made four trips to Cuba and had informed Cuban officials that the FBI had not found any evidence of such alleged attacks. Here are the Senator’s actual words to the Associated Press:

  • “The Cuban Interior Ministry is saying the FBI has told them there is no evidence of a sonic attack, even though that term is being used, ‘attack,’ there is no evidence of it. There’s no evidence that somebody purposefully tried to harm somebody. Nobody is saying that these people didn’t experience some event, but there’s no evidence there was a deliberate attack by somebody, either the Cubans or anybody else.”

Flake, a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee member, a frequent visitor to Cuba and an advocate for normalization of U.S. relations with the island, added that previous classified briefings from U.S. officials have left him with no reason to doubt this Cuban briefing.

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[1] Assoc. Press, US Senator Says No Evidence of ‘Sonic Attacks’ in Cuba, N.Y. Times (Jan. 6, 2018).