On September 6, the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Western Hemisphere Subcommittee held a hearing on U.S. policy on Cuba.
The subcommittee heard from the following five witnesses, the first four of whom were from the State Department and the last (Mr. Mazanec) from the U.S. Government Accountability Office: (1) Kenneth H. Merten, Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs; (2) Peter Bodde, Coordinator, Health Incidents Response Task Force; (3) Charles Rosenfarb, M.D., Medical Director, Bureau of Medical Services; (4) Todd Brown, Assistant Director for Countermeasures, Bureau of Diplomatic Security; and (5) Brian M. Mazanec, Ph. D.
Since the audio recording of the hearing is virtually impossible to hear, the following are the highlights of the prepared and printed statements of two of the witnesses and the brief comments from the Washington Post article.
Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Merten
Human Rights. The Department continues to monitor “human rights developments in Cuba and actively engages with members of Cuban civil society. . . . The Department and USAID also continue to administer U.S. government funded programs to promote democracy and support the critical work of human rights defenders on the island. . . . we regularly speak out against the regime for repression and abuse and raise these concerns directly with the Cuban government.
Cuban Economy. The State Department’s “Cuba Restricted List . . . identifies entities and subentities with which direct financial transactions would disproportionately benefit Cuban military, intelligence, or security services or personnel at the expense of the Cuban people or private enterprise. . . . [It seeks to ] redirect economic activity that once supported the Cuban military toward the Cuban private sector and Cuban people.”
The Department’s Cuba Internet Task force. It is charged to “develop recommendations on 1) the role of media and unregulated flow of information to Cuba and 2) expanding internet access in Cuba” and is scheduled to complete its work by June 2019.
Promoting Stability and Prosperity. The Department has “1) reviewed democracy programs in Cuba to ensure they align with the criteria set forth in the LIBERTAD Act; 2) provided a report to the President detailing the Cuban regime’s human rights abuses against the Cuban people and its lack of progress towards a “transition government” as described in the LIBERTAD Act; 3) provided a report to the President on bilateral engagement with Cuba to ensure it advances U.S. interests; 4) took a stand at the UN against Cuban anti-embargo propaganda; and 5) continues to work with the Department of Homeland Security to discourage dangerous, unlawful migration that puts Cuban and American lives at risk.”
“Health Attacks” on U.S. Personnel. Merten reminded the subcommittee that “the Department first became aware of these health complaints and an increase in Cuban harassment in late December 2016, [bit] it was not until months later, after highly specialized medical testing was performed and analyzed by experts, that we began to understand the spectrum of severity and confirm the extent of the health effects. That confirmation indicated that these incidents went beyond routine harassment previously experienced by U.S. diplomats in Havana.”
He then stressed that the “Department does not currently know the mechanism for the cause of the injuries, the motive behind these attacks in Cuba, when they actually commenced, or who is responsible.” (Emphasis added.)
He also emphasized that the U.S. Government was committed to long-term support for the affected personnel.
He mentioned that Secretary of State Pompeo has established an Accountability Review Board that had submitted its report on June 7 and that the Secretary has accepted all of its recommendations.
“We’re seeing a unique syndrome. I can’t even call it a syndrome. It’s a unique constellation of symptoms and findings, but with no obvious cause,” testified Dr. Rosenfarb.
His prepared statement summarized the GAO’s July 30, 2018 report (released on September 6) that reviewed the State Department’s management of these health incidents and made recommendations for improvements in same.
This blog previously has criticized the U.S. so-called democracy promotion activities in Cuba and the U.S. Cuba Internet Task Force because they are unilateral attempts to impose U.S. values on Cuba. Instead, this blog has advocated for the U.S. attempting to develop such programs with the cooperation of the Cuban government. This blog also has also called for the U.S. to ends its embargo of Cuba.
A future post will discuss the latest developments regarding U.S. diplomats who have had medical problems arising from their being stationed in Havana.
 U.S. House Rep., Foreign Affairs Comm., Western Hemisphere Subcomm., U.S. Policy Toward Cuba (Sept. 6, 2018); Kaplan & Ashenbach, Scientists and doctors zap theory that microwave weapon injured Cuban diplomats, Wash. Post (Sept. 6, 2018).
 See the following sections of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA: U.S. Embargo of Cuba, Cuban Human Rights, Cuban Economy, U.S. Diplomats Medical Problems in Cuba and U.S. Cuba Internet Task Force.