Recent U.S.-Cuba Developments 

Here are updates on several U.S.-Cuba issues.

U.S.-Cuba Bilateral Commission Meeting[1]

On June 14 in Washington, D.C., the U.S. and Cuba held their seventh meeting of the  Bilateral Commission that was started by the Obama Administration and Cuba.

Afterwards the State Department said the two parties “reviewed . . . areas for engagement that advance the interests of the [U.S.] and the Cuban people including combatting trafficking in persons; facilitating safe civil aviation; law enforcement cooperation; agricultural cooperation; maritime safety and search and rescue cooperation; resolution of certified claims;[2] advancing understanding of environmental challenges; and protecting the national security and public health and safety of the [U.S.]”

The State Department also said, “The [U.S.] reiterated the urgent need to identify the source of the attacks on U.S. diplomats and to ensure they cease. We also reiterated that until it is sufficiently safe to fully staff our Embassy, we will not be able to provide regular visa services in Havana. We expressed our continued concerns about the arbitrary detention of independent journalists and human rights defenders. The [U.S.] acknowledged progress in repatriating Cubans with final orders of removal from the [U.S.], but emphasized Cuba needs to accept greater numbers of returnees.” The U.S. also voiced concern about the “arbitrary detention of independent journalists and human rights defenders” in Cuba.

“Carlos Fernandez de Cossio, the top Cuban official at [this meeting], told The Associated Press that his delegation had “challenged the U.S. on the use of the word ‘attack.’ “There is no evidence of a weapon, there is no evidence of a source, nobody can point to motivation and yet they continue to use the word ‘attack.’ We see it as politically motivated.’” He also noted that neither American nor Cuban experts had been able to determine what caused the symptoms. He renewed concerns that the Trump administration is using the incidents as an excuse to roll back U.S.-Cuba rapprochement started under the Obama administration.

This objection to the U.S. verbiage for this problem was reiterated in a statement by the Cuba Foreign Ministry. “The Cuban delegation urged the government of the [U.S.] to desist from the continued political manipulation of the alleged health cases, which became the pretext to adopt new unilateral measures that affect the performance of the respective embassies, in particular, the rendering of consular services depended upon by hundreds of thousands of persons.” Cuba also raised its objection to the U.S. “travel warning” for Cuba, saying it “hinders the scientific, academic, cultural, religious and entrepreneurial exchanges, as well as the visits by Americans to a country that is internationally recognized as safe and healthy.”

The Cuba Foreign Ministry statement added, “The Cuban delegation rebuffed the regress in the bilateral relationship imposed by the government of the [U.S.] and called attention on the negative consequences thereof for both peoples, the Cuban emigration and the international and regional environment. The Cuban delegation reiterated that the economic, commercial and financial blockade continues to be the main obstacle to any perspective of improvement in the bilateral relationship and denounced its intensification with the adoption, in particular, of additional financial measures of aggressive extraterritorial nature.” Another Cuban objection was registered to what it said were U.S. actions, which were “intended interference in the internal affairs of Cuba, with the open manipulation of the human rights issue, which is flagrantly, massively and systematically violated with the implementation of the blockade.”

The Cuban Foreign Ministry, on the other hand, acknowledged “that it has been demonstrated that it is possible to cooperate and live in a civilized manner, by respecting differences and promoting that which benefits both countries and peoples. It expressed Cuba’s willingness to continue the bilateral dialogue and to work on issues of common interest through the active implementation, based on concrete proposals, of the bilateral agreements subscribed as those on environmental protection, law enforcement, health, agriculture, hydrography and geodesy, among others.”

Finally the State Department announced that the parties had “agreed to hold the next rounds of the biannual Migration Talks and the Law Enforcement Dialogue this summer.”

Another source mentioned that since Trump took office, the two countries have met around two dozen times on topics such as migration, public health, combating illicit drugs, environmental protection, law enforcement, agriculture, people smuggling and migration fraud, fugitives from justice, cyber-security, anti-money laundering, human trafficking, maritime safety, civil aviation and human rights.

Overall Evaluation of U.S.-Cuba Relations Under Trump[3]

Mimi Whitefield, who closely follows Cuban developments for the Miami Herald, notes that U.S.-Cuba relations appear to be stalled since President Trump gave his speech in Miami announcing retreats on U.S. engagement with Cuba.

However, she points out, the Havana-based “Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation documented 5,155 such cases last year, compared to 8,616 and 9,940 during the last two years of the Obama administration.” And in May 2018 they fell to 128, the lowest monthly total in three years, which may have been affected by “factors that affected Cubans’ activism: Poor weather conditions kept many people indoors, Cubans were preoccupied and took more time trying to find food and other staples, transportation was difficult, and the deaths of 112 people in a May 18 airline crash left the nation shell-shocked.”

Whitefield also states that the U.S. List of Restricted Entities and Subentities Associated With Cuba as of November 9, 2017, with which U.S. persons are not to have any dealings, has not been updated and does not even include all the hotels run by Cuba’s military conglomerate, and Americans still have the option of staying at hotel chains operated by the Cuban Ministry of Tourism.

U.S. visitors to the island declined 56.6% in the first quarter of 2018 versus the prior year, with enormous adverse impact on Cuba’s emerging private sector. “Cuban entrepreneurs complain that the confusing U.S. travel policy has hurt them disproportionally because individual travelers tend to stay with them rather than at state-owned hotels. Business, some say, is down 30 to 40 percent because U.S. travel in general is down.”

On the other hand, says John McAuliffe, executive director of the Fund for Reconciliation and Development, which promotes engagement between Cuba and the U.S., “there is one form of travel to Cuba that is booming and that is cruises, and most of the revenue from the cruise industry goes to the state. With cruise terminal fees, buses, tours, and cruise passengers eating at mostly state restaurants, it’s channeling more money to official circles.”

Expansion of Bipartisan State Councils Supporting  Engagement with Cuba[4]

 On June 12, Engage Cuba, a bipartisan coalition promoting U.S. engagement with Cuba, announced that there are now 18 states with bipartisan state councils supporting these efforts. The latest is Pennsylvania, which like the others will seek to build statewide support for pro-engagement policies and ending U.S. trade and travel restrictions on Cuba.

=====================================

[1] U.S. State Dep’t, United States and Cuba Hold Seventh Bilateral Commission Meeting (June 14, 2018); Cuba Foreign Ministry, Seventh Meeting of the Cuba-United States Bilateral Commission held in Washington, D.C, (June 14, 2018); Assoc. Press, US Renews Call for Cuba to Probe Cause of Health ‘Attack,’ N.Y.Times (June 14, 2018); The US urges the Government of Cuba to identify the origin of attacks on diplomats, Diario de Cuba (June 14, 2018).

[2] The “certified claims” probably refers to claims against Cuba by U.S. nationals for their claims for compensation for Cuba’s expropriation of their property on the island in 1959-1960 that were certified by the U.S. Department of Justice. See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Resolution of U.S. and Cuba’s Damage Claims (April 6, 2015); Resolving U.S. and Cuba Damage Claims (Dec. 13, 2015).

[3]  Whitefield, Has President Trump’s year-old Cuba policy helped the Cuban people? Miami Herald (June 14, 2018).

[4]   Engage Cuba, Pennsylvania Leaders Launch Engage Cuba State Council (June 12, 2018).

 

Cuba Still Baffled by Illness of U.S. Diplomats 

On June 10 the Cuba Foreign Ministry stated, “ After more than a year of investigations by specialized agencies and experts from Cuba and the United States, it is confirmed that there is no credible hypothesis or conclusions attached to science that justify the actions taken by the United States government against Cuba in detriment of bilateral relations and with obvious political motivations.”[1]

This statement came after the U.S. on June 8 publicly announced that two more officials of the U.S. Embassy in Havana had reported health symptoms as a result of “undefined sounds” in their residence, but that these two individuals were considered “potentially new cases,” but had not yet been “medically confirmed” before testing at the University of Pennsylvania. [2]

According to the subsequent Cuba statement, it learned of one of the new cases on May 29 and immediately did an “exhaustive and urgent investigation carried out in the vicinity of the residence [and]  found no evidence of any sound that could cause damage to health.”

In addition, the Ministry reiterated “that no evidence has been presented of the alleged incidents and maintains its unwavering commitment to cooperate with the authorities of the United States to achieve clarification of this situation and the best medical attention to the persons concerned.“ (Emphasis added.)

Nevertheless, Cuba “publicly and officially reiterated its willingness to cooperate seriously in the joint search for answers, clarification and the solution of the alleged facts.”

All of this happened after the U.S. had disclosed that some diplomatic employees at a U.S. consulate in southern China had reported medical symptoms similar to those that had occurred in Cuba.[3]

===============================

[1]  MINREX statement, There is no credible hypothesis about alleged sonic attacks, Cubadebate (June 10, 2018); Reuters, Cuba Says Cause of Illness in U.S. Diplomats Remains Mystery, N.Y. Times (June 10, 2018); Assoc. Press, Cuba Releases Details of Incident Involving US Official, N.Y. Times (June 10, 2018).

[2] Assoc. Press, US Pulls 2 More From Cuba Amid New Potential Health Cases, N.Y. Times (June 8, 2018); Reuters, Two People From U.S. Embassy in Havana Evaluated for Illness–State Department, N.Y. Times (June 8. 2018).

[3] U.S. State Dep’t, Message for U.S. Citizens [in China]: Improvements to Safety and Security Information (June 8, 2018); Perlez & Myers, U.S. Issues Alert to Americans in China in Wake of Sonic Attack Fears, N.Y. Times (June 8, 2018); Perlez & Myers, China Pledges to Investigate Fears of Sonic Attacks on U.S. Diplomats, N.Y. Times (June 7, 2018); Myers & Perlez, A Medical Mystery Grows as U.S. Consulate Workers in China Fall Ill, N.Y. Times (June 6, 2018).

 

Cuba Protests U.S.’ Cuba Internet Task Force

On January 31 the Cuban Foreign Ministry sent a note protesting the U.S. recent creation of the Cuba Internet Task Force.[1]

The note “expresses its strong protest for the pretension of the US government to violate flagrant Cuban sovereignty, with respect to national competence to regulate the flow of information and the use of mass media, while rejecting the attempt to manipulate the Internet to carry out illegal programs for political purposes and subversion, as part of their actions aimed at altering or changing the constitutional order of the Republic of Cuba.” 

This Task force hasthe stated objective of promoting in Cuba the ‘free and unregulated flow of information/’ According to the announcement, this task force will ‘examine the technological challenges and opportunities to expand Internet access and independent media’ in Cuba.

Cuba again demands that the Government of the United States cease its subversive, interfering and illegal actions against Cuba, which undermine Cuban constitutional stability and order, and urges it to respect Cuban sovereignty, International Law and the purposes of and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”

The “Cuban Foreign Ministry reiterates the determination of the Government of Cuba not to tolerate any type of subversive activity or interference in its internal affairs and, as a sovereign country, to continue defending itself and denouncing the interfering nature of this type of action.”

“Cuba will continue to regulate the flow of information as is its sovereign right and as is practice in all countries, including the United States. Cuba will also continue advancing in the computerization of its society, as part of the development of the country and in terms of the social justice objectives that characterize its Revolution.”

====================================

[1] Note from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cuba (Jan. 31, 2018); The regime sends a protest note to Washington for its plan to expand the internet in Cuba, Diario de Cuba (Feb. 1, 2018).

 

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.

=====================================

[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).

U.S. and Cuba Hold Biannual Migration Talks 

Despite the significant recent cooling of relations, the U.S. and Cuba held their biannual discussion of migration issues, this time at the State Department in Washington, D.C. on December 11.

Migration Discussions[1]

According to the Department, the two countries “discussed the significant reduction in irregular migration from Cuba to the [U.S.] since the implementation of the January 2017 Joint Statement [during the last days of the Obama Administration [2]]. Apprehensions of Cuban migrants at U.S. ports of entry decreased by 64 percent from fiscal year 2016 to 2017, and maritime interdictions of Cuban migrants decreased by 71 percent. The [U.S.] confirmed it met its annual commitment in fiscal year 2017 to facilitate legal migration by issuing a minimum of 20,000 documents under the Migration Accords to Cubans to immigrate to the [U.S.] The U.S. delegation also raised the need for increased Cuban cooperation in the return of Cubans with final orders of removal from the [U.S.]”

The Department added, “A strong migration policy is vital to the [U.S.] national security. The Migration Talks, which began in 1995, provide a forum for the [U.S.] and Cuba to review and coordinate efforts to ensure safe, legal, and orderly migration between Cuba and the [U.S.]. The talks were last held in April 2017 [in the Trump Administration].”

The Cuban statement provided greater details on the substance of these discussions. It said “Cuba urged the [U.S.] to fulfill its obligation to issue no less than 20,000 travel documents annually to Cuban citizens to emigrate to that country. “Cuba also questioned the “validity of the U.S. Cuban Adjustment Act, which continues to be a stimulus to irregular migration and whose repeal will be essential to achieve normal migratory relations between the two countries.”[3] Another impediment to cooperation on migration, said Cuba, was the U.S. cancellation of “trips of official delegations from the [U.S.] to Cuba, which has led to the postponement of previously scheduled exchanges of mutual interest, which , if maintained,  could deepen the effects on exchanges in this and other areas.”

The Cuban statement also said that Cuba  had “expressed its deepest concern about the negative consequences that [U.S.] unilateral, unfounded and politically motivated decisions [in September and October 2017] have on immigration relations between both countries.”[4]

Furthermore, Cuba “warned . . .about the negative impact of the suspension of the granting of visas in the [U.S.] Consulate in Havana [due to the U.S. reduced staffing], which, by paralyzing the procedures of Cuban citizens to visit or emigrate to that country, seriously hampers family relations and exchanges of all kinds between both peoples.” Cuba reiterated its objection to the U.S.”arbitrary expulsion of a significant group of officials from [Cuba’s] Embassy in Washington, which has significantly affected the functioning of the diplomatic mission, . . . [especially] the services it provides to Cubans residing in the[U.S.]. . . . and] to American citizens who are interested in traveling to our country.”[5]

On a more positive note, Cuba observed that both side recognized “the positive impact of the Joint Declaration signed on January 12, 2017 [during the last days of the Obama Administration] and, specifically, the elimination of the “dry feet-wet feet” policy and the “Parole Program for Cuban Medical Professionals” in the decrease of irregular emigration from Cuba to the [U.S.]”[6]

In addition, both countries” agreed on the usefulness of the exchange between Coast Guard Troops and the Coast Guard Service held in July [2017]and the technical meeting on human trafficking and immigration fraud carried out in September [2017] which will continue on December 12. Cuba reaffirmed its willingness to give continuity to the rounds of conversations on migration issues.”

Conclusion

As an advocate for normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations, it is good to know that the two countries still manage to hold respectful meetings to discuss issues of mutual concern even though they do not agree on all such issues and even though this blog disapproves of the Trump Administration’s recent changes to U.S. regulations on travel to Cuba and trade with Cuba.

This blog was also pleased to read the U.S. implicit positive endorsement of the Obama Administration’s January 12, 2017, Joint Declaration with Cuba about the latter’s migration to the U.S.

On the other hand, this blog disagrees with the U.S. reduction of the staffing of its Embassy in Havana and the expulsion of Cuban diplomats from its Embassy in Washington and supports Cuba’s complaint about the negative consequences of those decisions.

========================

[1] U.S. State Dep’t, United States and Cuba Hold Biannual Migration Talks in Washington, D.C. (Dec. 11, 2017); Washington’s unilateral actions hamper relations with Cuba, Granma (Dec. 11, 2017)

[2] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: U.S. Ends Special Immigration Benefit for Cubans and Meets with Cubans To Discuss Claims (Jan. 13, 2017); Additional Reactions to End of U.S. Immigration Benefits to Cubans (Jan. 14, 2017); Reuters, Cuba Tells U.S. Suspension of Visas Is Hurting Families, N.Y. Times (Dec. 12, 2017).

[3] Cuban Adjustment Act, Wikipedia.

[4]  See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: A New Travel Warning for Americans Traveling to Cuba (Sept. 19, 2017); Medical “Incidents” Affecting U.S. Diplomats in Cuba Prompt U.S. To Reduce Staff at Havana Embassy and Urge Americans Not to Travel to Cuba (Sept. 30, 2017); U.S. Orders Cuba To Remove 15 Cuban Diplomats (Oct. 4, 2017); U.S. Embassy in Cuba Issues “Hotel Restrictions” Security Message (Oct. 7, 2017).

[5] See n.4.

[6] See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: U.S. Ends Special Immigration Benefit for Cubans and Meets with Cubans To Discuss Claims (Jan. 13, 2017); Additional Reactions to End of U.S. Immigration Benefits to Cubans (Jan. 14, 2017).

 

Cuba’s Reaction to U.S. Ordering Removal of Cuban Diplomats 

On October 3, the U.S. ordered the removal of 15 Cuban diplomats from the U.S. as discussed in a prior post. Now we examine Cuba’s reaction to that U.S. decision and order as expressed in the Cuba Foreign Ministry’s lengthy  statement and in press conference remarks by its Foreign Minister, Bruno Gonzalez. A future post will look at other such reactions.

Cuba Foreign Ministry Statement[1]

“The Ministry . . .  strongly protests and condemns this unfounded and unacceptable decision as well as the [false] pretext [purportedly justifying it].”

“The Ministry “categorically rejects any responsibility of the Cuban Government in the alleged incidents and reiterates once again that Cuba has never perpetrated, nor will it ever perpetrate attacks of any sort against diplomatic officials or their relatives, without any exception. Neither has it ever allowed nor will it ever allow its territory to be used by third parties with that purpose.”

“The Ministry emphasizes that the U.S. Government decision to reduce Cuba’s diplomatic staff in Washington without the conclusive results from the investigation and without evidence of the incidents that would be affecting their officials in Cuba has an eminently political character.”

“The Ministry urges the competent authorities of the U.S. Government not to continue politicizing this matter, which can provoke an undesirable escalation and reverse even more bilateral relations, which were already affected by the announcement of a new policy made in June last by President Donald Trump.”

Cuba’s Foreign Minister previously had “warned . . . [the U.S. Secretary of State] against the adoption of hasty decisions that were not supported by evidence; urged him not to politicize a matter of this nature and once again . . . [requested U.S.]  effective cooperation . . . to clarify facts and conclude the investigation.”

“It is the second time, after May 23, 2017, that the State Department ordered two Cuban diplomats in Washington to abandon the country; that the US Government reacts in a hasty, inappropriate and unthinking way, without having evidence of the occurrence of the adduced facts, for which Cuba has no responsibility whatsoever and before the conclusion of the investigation that is still in progress.”

Just as was expressed by the Cuban Foreign Minister to Secretary of State Tillerson on September 26, 2017, “Cuba, whose diplomatic staff members have been victims in the past of attempts . . . [on] their lives, who have been murdered, disappeared, kidnapped or attacked during the performance of their duty, has seriously and strictly observed its obligations under the Geneva Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 referring to the protection and integrity of diplomatic agents accredited in the country, for which it has an impeccable record.”[2]

“Since February 17, 2017, when the U.S. embassy and State Department notified [Cuba of] the alleged occurrence of incidents against some officials of that diplomatic mission and their relatives [starting in] November 2016, arguing that these had caused them injuries and other disorders, the Cuban authorities have acted with utmost seriousness, professionalism and immediacy to clarify this situation and opened an exhaustive and priority investigation following instructions from the top level of the Government. The measures adopted to protect the U.S. diplomatic staff, their relatives and residences were reinforced; new expeditious communication channels were established between the U.S. embassy and Cuba’s Diplomatic Security Department and a Cuban committee of experts made up by law enforcement officials, physicians and scientists was created to make a comprehensive analysis of facts.”

“In the face of the belated, fragmented and insufficient information supplied by the U.S., the Cuban authorities requested further information and clarifications from the US embassy in order to carry out a serious and profound investigation.”

“The U.S. embassy only delivered some data of interest on the alleged incidents after February 21, when President Raúl Castro Ruz personally reiterated to the Chargé d’Affairs of the U.S. diplomatic mission how important it was for the competent authorities from both countries to cooperate and exchange more information. Nevertheless, the data subsequently supplied continued to be lacking in the descriptions or details that would facilitate the characterization of facts or the identification of potential perpetrators, in case there were any.”

“In the weeks that followed, in view of new reports on the alleged incidents and the scarce information that had been delivered, the Cuban authorities reiterated the need to establish an effective cooperation and asked the U.S. authorities for more information and insisted that the occurrence of any new incident should be notified in real time, which would provide for a timely action.”

“The information delivered by the U.S. authorities led the committee of Cuban experts to conclude that this was insufficient and that the main obstacle to clarify the incidents had been the lack of direct access to the injured people and the physicians who examined them; the belated delivery of evidence and their deficient nature; the absence of reliable first-hand  and verifiable information and the inability to exchange with U.S. experts who are knowledgeable about this kind of events and the technology that could have been used, despite having repeatedly stating this as a requirement to be able to move forward in the investigation.”

“Only after repeated requests were conveyed to the U.S. Government, some representatives of U.S. specialized agencies finally traveled to Havana in June, met with their Cuban counterparts and expressed their intention to cooperate in a more substantive way in the investigation of the alleged incidents.  They again visited Cuba in August and September, and for the first time in more than 50 years they were allowed to work on the ground, for which they were granted access to all Cuban facilities, including the possibility of importing equipment, as a gesture of good will that evidenced the great interest of the Cuban government in concluding the investigation.”

“The U.S. specialized agencies recognized the high professional level of the investigation which was started by Cuba and its high technical and scientific capabilities and which preliminarily concluded that, so far, according to the information available and the data supplied by the U.S., there were no evidence of the occurrence of the alleged incidents or the causes and the origin of the health disorders reported by the U.S. diplomats and their relatives.  Neither has it been possible to identify potential perpetrators or persons with motivations, intentions or means to perpetrate this type of actions; nor was it possible to establish the presence of suspicious persons or means at the locations where such facts have been reported or in their vicinity.  The Cuban authorities are not familiar with the equipment or the technology that could be used for that purpose; nor do they have information indicating their presence in the country.”

. Nevertheless, the Ministry reiterates Cuba’s disposition to continue fostering a serious and objective cooperation between the authorities of both countries with the purpose of clarifying these facts and concluding the investigation, for which it will be essential to count on the most effective cooperation of the U.S. competent agencies.”

Cuba Foreign Minister’s Press Conference[3]

Foreign Minister Rodriguez in his lengthy press conference made the following additional points:

  • The decision to expel Cuban diplomats “can only benefit those who intend to reverse the progress [in U.S.-Cuba relations] made in recent years and only follows the interests of a handful of people.”
  • The U.S. decision to expel Cuban diplomats “is clearly a political decision unrelated to the ongoing investigation. It is a reprisal. It is politically motivated and malicious. To date there is no concrete evidence regarding the claims of attacks on U.S. diplomats, with theories being paraded around that can only be described as ‘science fiction.’”
  • The only terrorist attacks to have taken place in Cuba were perpetrated by groups based in the U.S., not by any third country.
  • The incidents were reported by the U.S. Embassy months after they were supposed to have occurred. Cuban experts have not visited diplomatic residences, as the U.S. has refused them entry.
  • The question about the future of the bilateral diplomatic agenda should be put to the U.S. government. That agenda has been adversely affected by the expulsion of the Cuban diplomats; by President Trump’s recent speech to the U.N. General Assembly;[4] and his speech in Miami in June about U.S.-Cuba relations.[5] In short, all of these decisions are rash, and the “U.S. will be responsible for the deterioration of relations between the two countries.”
  • Cuba has not taken any action against the U.S.; it does not discriminate against its companies; it invites U.S. citizens to visit; it favors dialogue and bilateral cooperation; it does not occupy any part of the territory of the U.S. and has not adopted any measures of a bilateral nature. On the contrary, Cuba has favored a respectful course on the basis of sovereign equality, to treat our differences and to live civilly with them for the benefit of both peoples and countries.
  • Since the creation of the Cuban Interests Office in Washington (now our embassy) until this minute, Cuban diplomatic officials have never carried out intelligence activities.

============================================

[1] Cuba Foreign Ministry, Statement (Oct. 3, 2017)

[2] Medical ‘Incidents’ Affecting U.S. Diplomats in Cuba Prompts U.S. To Close Embassy in Cuba and Urge Americans Not to Travel to Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (Sept. 30, 32017) (discussion of 9/26/17 Rodriguez-Tillerson meeting).

[3] Minute by Minute: Press conference by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, Granma (Oct. 3, 2017); Bruno Rodríguez: Cuba has never carried out attacks against diplomats (+ Video), CubaDebate (Oct. 3, 2017).

[4] President Trump Condemns Cuba at United Nations, dwkcommentaries.com (Sept. 21, 2017).

[5] President Trump Announces Reversal of Some U.S.-Cuba Normalization Policies, dwkcommentaries.com (June 19, 2017).

Medical ‘Incidents’ Affecting U.S. Diplomats in Cuba Prompt U.S. To Reduce Staff at Havana Embassy and Urge Americans Not To Travel to Cuba

On September 29, following a week of news about the subject, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson issued a statement, “Actions Taken in Response to Attacks on U.S. Government Personnel in Cuba.”[1]

The Secretary’s Statement[2]

The Statement, after reviewing the “variety of injuries from attacks of an unknown nature” to 21 U.S. Embassy employees, asserted that on September 29, “the Department ordered the departure of non-emergency personnel assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Havana, as well as all family members. Until the Government of Cuba can ensure the safety of our diplomats in Cuba, our Embassy will be reduced to emergency personnel in order to minimize the number of diplomats at risk of exposure to harm.”

The Statement added that the “decision to reduce our diplomatic presence in Havana was made to ensure the safety of our personnel. We maintain diplomatic relations with Cuba, and our work in Cuba continues to be guided by the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States. Cuba has told us it will continue to investigate these attacks and we will continue to cooperate with them in this effort.”

Simultaneously the Department “issued a Travel Warning advising U.S. citizens to avoid travel to Cuba and informing them of our decision to draw down our diplomatic staff. We have no reports that private U.S. citizens have been affected, but the attacks are known to have occurred in U.S. diplomatic residences and hotels frequented by U.S. citizens.”

These action s were taken even though the ”Department does not have definitive answers on the cause or source of the attacks and is unable to recommend a means to mitigate exposure.”

This Statement was preceded by news reports that the U.S. would begin withdrawing roughly 60% of its staff from the Embassy and diplomats’ families. This was not seen as punishment for the Cuban government, but a means of protecting diplomats and their families from the strange attacks. On September 28, Heather Nauert said the Secretary was reviewing all options on “how to best protect our American personnel’ in Cuba. As a result, the U.S. will stop processing Cuban requests for visas at the Embassy.” [3]

Just prior to the issuance of this Statement, the Department held a press conference on that subject.[4] The following additional points were made:

  • “Until the Government of Cuba can assure the safety of U.S. Government personnel in Cuba, our embassy will be reduced to emergency personnel so as to minimize the number of U.S. Government personnel at risk of exposure. The remaining personnel will carry out core diplomatic and consular functions, including providing emergency assistance to U.S. citizens in Cuba. Routine visa operations are suspended indefinitely. Short-term travel by U.S. Government officials to Cuba will also be limited to those involved with the ongoing investigation or who have a need to travel related to the U.S. national security or crucial embassy operations. The United States will not send official delegations to Cuba or conduct bilateral meetings in Cuba for the time being. Meetings may continue in the United States.”
  • “The governments of the United States and Cuba have not yet identified the responsible party, but the Government of Cuba is responsible for taking all appropriate steps to prevent attacks on our diplomatic personnel in Cuba.”
  • The Department has “not ruled out the possibility of a third country as a part of the investigation, but that investigation continues.”
  • The “cooperation that the Cuban Government has given to our efforts to understand what is happening in these attacks to [has] been ongoing, and we expect it to continue.”
  • “The ordered departure will result in more than half of the embassy footprint being reduced.”
  • The Department does not “know the means, the methods, or how these attacks are being carried out, and so I could not characterize them as having stopped in August.”
  • “The staff who were affected at hotels were temporary duty staff at the embassy.”
  • The Department is not “aware of any incidents involving [our Cuban staff at the embassy] or attacks involving them.”
  • The U.S. “investigation continues, but at this moment we don’t have definitive answers on the source or cause of the attacks. And so, I really can’t speculate on engagement or not by Cubans or other parties. The investigation’s ongoing and we will see where the facts lead us in terms of cause or source.”

Reactions to the Statement[5]

Before the issuance of the Statement, the president of the American Foreign Service Association, which is the union representing U.S. diplomats, opposed the then threatened withdrawal of staff from the Havana embassy. He said, “We have a mission to do. AFSA’s view is that American diplomats need to remain on the field and in the game. We’re used to operating with serious health risks in many environments, whether it’s parasites that rip up our guts in Africa, exposure to Zika virus and dengue fever, or air pollution in China and India,”

Immediately afterwards, Senator Patrick Leahy (Dem., VT) said, “”Whoever is doing this obviously is trying to disrupt the normalization process between the United States and Cuba. Someone or some government is trying to reverse that process. . . .We must do all we can do solve this mystery so that our embassy personnel can safely return as quickly as possible.” Representative James McGovern (Dem., MA) had a similar reaction:  the drawdown will make it “harder for Cuban and American families to travel and visit loved ones” and “America cannot afford a return to the failed Cold War isolationist policies that divided families for 50 years.”

Senator Marco Rubio (Rep., FL) did not express agreement or disagreement with the Statement, but instead said these actions did not go far enough. He initially tweeted, “”Shameful that @StateDept withdraws most staff from @USEmbCuba but Castro can keep as many as he wants in U.S.” In a subsequent longer statement, he said, “it is weak, unacceptable and outrageous for the U.S. State Department to allow Raul Castro to keep as many of his operatives in the U.S. as he wants. The Cuban government has failed its obligation under international treaties to keep foreign diplomats safe on its soil. The idea that Cuba knows nothing about how these attacks took place and who perpetrated them is absurd.  . . . Until those responsible for these attacks are brought to justice, the U.S. should immediately expel an equal number of Cuban operatives, downgrade the U.S. embassy in Havana to an interests section, and consider relisting Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism.”

President Trump, ignoring the Department’s continued refusal to blame Cuba, did just that in a brief comment about the Statement when he said, Cuba “did some bad things in Cuba.”

Michael Bustamante, an assistant professor of Latin American history at Florida International University, thought the U.S. decision for the Embassy to cease processing Cuban applications for visas to emigrate to the U.S. might violate its agreement with Cuba from the 1990s to issue 20,000 such visas a year if there is no third-country workaround for those visa applications,

The new U.S. travel warning against Americans traveling to the island did not scare tour companies, airlines, cruise ship operators and others in the travel industry. Many have said they will continue taking Americans to Cuba. Greg Geronemus, CEO of SmarTours, said, “We continue to believe that Cuba is a safe destination for our travelers, and we will be running our tours until our assessment changes. . . . . [The] experience that our travelers have had on the ground with the Cuban people has been nothing short of amazing. We have no reason to expect that these experiences will not continue.” Airbnb spokesman Nick Papas, said that “consistent with U.S. law, our operations in Cuba will continue.”

Canada also has had some of its diplomats in Havana experience similar medical problems, but its Foreign Ministry said, “We continue to monitor the situation closely and we have no plans to travel advice or remove any staff.”

Josefina Vidal, a senior Cuban diplomat who was in charge of U.S. relations until this year, called Washington’s reaction “hasty” and warned that it would “affect the bilateral relations, specifically the cooperation in matters of mutual interest.” But she said Cuba was committed to determining the cause of the symptoms experienced by the American diplomats.”

For ordinary Cubans, the Statement “stirred anxiety and dread.” The ban on Americans traveling to the island “dealt a harsh blow to Cubans who had hoped the nascent normalization of relations with the United States that began in late 2014 would usher in a period of economic growth and greater prosperity in the impoverished Communist nation.” In addition, the “decision to stop issuing visas in Havana indefinitely leaves thousands of Cubans in limbo. Washington typically grants 20,000 immigrant visas a year to reunite Cubans with relatives in the United States, and thousands more to enable students, academics and tourists to travel.” Harold Cárdenas, a popular Cuban blogger who recently started a master’s degree program in international relations at Columbia University, said, “The most immediate is it will perpetuate estrangement, not just political, but physical. There will be a price, and it will be paid by Cuban families.”

Secretary of State’s Prior Meeting with Cuba’s Foreign Minister[6]

Late afternoon on September 26, at Cuba’s request, U.S. Secretary of State Tillerson met with Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez at the State Department to discuss issues relating to the medical problems of U.S. diplomats stationed in Cuba.

Afterwards the State Department said the conversation was “firm and frank” and that Tillerson raised “profound concern” about the diplomats’ safety and security. State Department spokeswoman Heather Neuter emphasized that Tillerson conveyed how serious the situation is and emphasized that Cuba is obligated under international law to protect foreign diplomats.

The Cuban Foreign Ministry’s lengthy post-meeting statement was the following:

  • The “Foreign Minister reiterated the seriousness, celerity and professionalism with which the Cuban authorities have taken on this issue. Following instructions from the top level of the Cuban government, a priority investigation was opened . . . [immediately after] these incidents were first reported and additional measures were adopted to protect the US diplomats and their relatives. This has been recognized by the representatives of the US specialized agencies who have travelled to Cuba as from June, whose visits have been considered as positive by the Cuban counterparts.”
  • He “reiterated . . . how important it was for the US authorities to cooperate, in an effective way, with the Cuban authorities in order to clarify these incidents, which are unprecedented in Cuba.”
  • He [also] “reaffirmed . . . that the decision and the argument claimed by the US Government to withdraw two Cuban diplomats from Washington were unwarranted and emphasized that Cuba strictly abides by its obligations under the Vienna Convention on the protection and integrity of diplomats, an area in which it keeps an impeccable record.
  • “He reaffirmed that the Cuban government has never perpetrated nor will it ever perpetrate attacks of any kind against diplomats. The Cuban government has never permitted nor will it ever permit the use of its territory by third parties for this purpose.”
  • He “stated that according to the preliminary results obtained by the Cuban authorities in their investigations, which have borne in mind the information given by the US authorities, there is no evidence so far of the cause or the origin of the health disorders reported by the US diplomats.”
  • “The Foreign Minister reaffirmed that the investigation to resolve this matter is still in progress and that Cuba has a keen interest in bringing it to closure, for which it is essential to count on the effective cooperation of the US authorities. He also stated that it would be regrettable that a matter of this nature is politicized and that hasty decisions not supported by conclusive evidence and investigation results are taken.”
  • Finally, “the Minister reiterated the willingness of Cuba to continue holding the bilateral dialogue on areas of common interest, based on respect and sovereign equality, despite the profound differences that exist between the two countries. “(Emphases added.)

Earlier that same day U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan told the House Foreign Affairs Committee “that it was a reasonable suspicion that Cuban authorities either were involved in the incidents or at least knew they were occurring . . . [since] Cuba keeps tight surveillance on American diplomats in the country and would be likely to know if something significant were happening to them.” However, he also admitted that with so much unknown, even that assumption is less than certain “and “as a U.S. government official, I don’t know that.”[7]

Suggested U.S. Responses to the “Attacks” on Diplomats in Cuba[8]

Although perhaps superseded by the previously mentioned Secretary’s Statement, an earlier editorial in the Wall Street Journal proposed that until Cuba offers a persuasive explanation of how these incidents occurred without Cuban collaboration, the U.S. should expel 19 Cuban diplomats from its embassy in Washington, D.C., which with the previous U.S. expulsions of two Cubans would equal the 21 Americans attacked in Cuba. If such a persuasive explanation is provided, then the Cuban diplomats could return to their posts. The Journal, however, is skeptical of such an explanation being provided in light of what it says is Cuba’s “long record of harassing U.S. government employees on the island.”

A more aggressive response suggestion has been offered by the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba (FHRC), a U.S. 501(c)3 nonprofit organization established in 1992 to promote a nonviolent transition to a free and democratic Cuba with zero tolerance for human rights violations. It asserted the following:

  • “The unacceptability of the thesis that the perpetrator was a third party. In the circumstances of comprehensive surveillance (visual, physical, digital, phone, microphones) to which these diplomats are subject 24 by 7, it is impossible for third players to act in independent and undetected fashion for over nine months and in more than two dozen locations such as residences and hotel rooms.”
  • The unacceptability that these facts are diluted, minimized, and silenced by the Department of State and/or any other U.S. agency participating in this investigation.T
  • The unacceptability to allow the perpetrator to escape the scandal as well its political, diplomatic and financial consequences.
  • The unacceptability of diluting the legal responsibility of the perpetrator so that victims could not be compensated nor the truth identified.

Other News[9]

There has been other recent news regarding these issues.

First, a Miami television station reported that at least four additional U.S. diplomats who served in Cuba have been hurt by sonic attacks and that these incidents occurred inside the U.S. Embassy and at several Havana hotels, including the famous Hotel Nacional. This brings the total affected individuals to 25. (Presumably, under the Wall Street Journal’s rationale, if there is confirmation that 25 Americans who have been affected, there would be 23 additional Cubans expelled.)  However, the Miami Herald said that according to an unnamed State Department source, there are only 21 confirmed cases, not 25, and none of the attacks occurred at the U.S. Embassy; the same, more authoritative, message was provided at the previously mentioned September 29 press briefing.

Second, according to CNN, a senior U.S. official said that some of the 21 individuals previously counted as subjects of such attacks were targeted at least 50 times.

Third, an independent Cuban news outlet, Diario de Cuba, reports that among the Canadians similarly affected while serving in Cuba are “several children” from “more than five families of Canadian diplomats.”

 Conclusion

These medical “incidents” are deeply disturbing, and the U.S. and Cuba need to determine the cause(s) and perpetrator(s). The good news is that the U.S. is not rushing to judgment, that in the near term the U.S. is taking reasonable steps to protect its diplomats and families and that the U.S. and Cuba maintain diplomatic relations and are cooperating on these issues and other matters.

The new Travel Warning, however, goes too far when it starts, “The Department of State warns U.S. citizens not to travel to Cuba” and then admits that the “attacks” to date have been on “U.S. Embassy employees” and “have occurred in U.S. diplomatic residences and hotels frequented by U.S. citizens.” Moreover, as discussed in prior blog posts, the small number of hotels to date have all been in Havana that have been used by U.S. Embassy employees on a short-term basis and U.S. citizens who are not connected with the Embassy have not been subjects of any of these “attacks.” As a result, the new Travel Warning should have made these facts clear and at most cautioned U.S. citizens about using certain Havana hotels while also telling them that many Cuban citizens are making their Havana homes available to foreign guests and that there have been no problems associated with the many other cities and towns on the island.

For those of us favoring continuation of the process of normalizing relations between the two countries, we must continue to oppose requests for the U.S. to take various actions against Cuba, including closure of the U.S. Embassy in Havana, all before there is a well-documented conclusion to the ongoing U.S. and Cuban investigations of this mystery.

Similarly, for the same reason we must oppose the suggestion from Senator Rubio, the Wall Street Journal and any others to expel Cuban diplomats equal to the number of U.S. diplomats affected by the “sonic attacks” or whatever else has caused medical problems.

======================================

[1]  This blog has published the following posts about these issues: U.S. and Cuba Have Diplomatic Dispute (Aug. 10, 2017); Another State Department Briefing Regarding Cuban Diplomatic Dispute (Aug. 10, 2017); Update on U.S.-Cuba Diplomatic dispute Over Health Conditions of U.S. Diplomats Stationed in Cuba (Aug. 23, 2017); At least 16 U.S. Diplomats Who Had Served in Cuba Have Medical Problems (Aug. 24, 2017) (comment to 8/24/17 post); Washington Post Editorial Blames Cuba for Americans Medical Problems in Cuba (Aug. 25, 2017) (comment to 8/24/17 post);  News About Cuba-Related Medical Problems from Canada and London (Aug. 26, 2017); In August, New Cases of Injured U.S. Diplomats in Cuba (Sept. 2, 2017); Two More U.S. Diplomats Serving in Cuba Have Medical Problems (Sept. 13, 2017); More Mystery Surrounding “Medical Attacks” on U.S. Diplomats in Cuba Sept. 14, 2017); GOP Senators Ask Administration To Take Actions Against Cuba Over U.S. Diplomats (Sept. 16, 2017); U.S. Evaluating Whether To Close U.S. Embassy in Cuba (Sept, 18, 2017); Developments Regarding U.S. Diplomats in Cuba (Sept. 20, 2017).

[2]  Tillerson, Actions Taken in Response to Attacks on U.S. Government Personnel in Cuba (Sept. 29, 2017); U.S. State Dep’t, Cuba Travel Warning (Sept. 29, 2017); Reuters, U.S. Cuts Staff from Cuba Over Mysterious Injuries, Warns Travelers, N.Y. Times (Sept. 29, 2017); Assoc. Press, US Slashes Cuba Embassy Staff, Warns Americans Not to Visit, N.Y. Times (Sept. 29, 2017).

[3]  Ordonez & Kumar, U.S. does not believe Cuba is behind sonic attacks on American diplomats, Miami Herald (Sept 26, 2017)

[4] Dep’t of State, Senior State Department Officials on Cuba (Sept. 29, 2017).

[5]  Hudson, Trump’s Thinking About Pulling US Personnel from Cuba. US Diplomats that That’s A Bad Idea, BuzzFeedNEWS (Sept. 28, 2017); Leahy, Leahy REAX On The U.S. Withdrawal of Most U.S. Embassy Personnel And Their Families From CUBA (Sept. 29, 2017); U.S. Rep. McGovern Statement on U.S. Embassy in Cuba, Travel Warning to Cuba (Sept. 29, 2017); Assoc. Press, The Latest: Democrat derides Cuba decision as overreaction, Wash. Post (Sept. 29, 2017); Harpaz & Gomez, Travel industry sticking with trips to Cuba from US, Wash. Post (Sept.29, 2017); Rubio: State Department’s Response to Cuba Attacks ‘Weak, Unacceptable and Outrageous,’ (Sept. 29, 2017); White House, Remarks by President Trump in Press Gaggle Before Marine One Departure (Sept. 29, 2017); Reuters, Trump Says Cuba ‘Did Some Bad Things’ Aimed at U.S. Diplomats, N.Y. Times (Sept. 29, 2017); Reuters, Canada Says Has No Plans to Remove Embassy Staff from Cuba, N.Y.  Times (Sept. 29, 2017); Cuba Foreign Ministry, Statement to the press by General Director for US Affairs, Josefina Vidal Ferreiro (Sept. 29, 2017); Londońo, Cubans Alarmed at U.S. Embassy Withdrawals and Travel Warning, N.Y. Times (Sept. 29, 2017); Reuters, Cubans Are Heartbroken, Angry Can’t Seek U.S. Visas in Havana, N.Y. Times (Sept. 29, 2017); Reuters, Canada Says Has No Plans to Remove Embassy Staff From Cuba, N.Y. Times (Sept. 29, 2017).

[6] Reuters, Tillerson to Meet Cuba’s Foreign Minister in Washington as Tensions Climb, N.Y. Times (Sept. 26, 2017); Assoc. Press, The Latest: Cuba Says No Clues Yet to Who Attacked Diplomats, N.Y. Times (Sept. 27, 2017); Reuters, Cuba Warns U.S. Against Hasty Decisions in Mysterious Diplomats Case, N.Y. Times (Sept. 27, 2017); Cuban Foreign Ministry, Cuba Foreign Minister meets with US Secretary of State (Sept. 26, 2017).

[7] Id. The Under Secretary’s direct testimony concerned the redesign of the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). (Dep’t of State, John J. Sullivan: Testimony Before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Sept. 26, 2017.

[8] Editorial, Cuba’s Sonic Attacks, W.S.J. (Sept. 25, 2017); FHRC, The responsibility for What Happened to U.S. Diplomats in Cuba (Sept 2017).

[9] Vela, Total number of Americans hurt in Cuba sonic attacks now at 25, Miami Television Channel 10 News (Sept. 25, 2017); Operand & Labatt, US diplomats, families in Cuba targeted nearly 50 times by sonic attacks, says US official, CNN (Sept. 24, 2017); There are children among Canadians affected by the so-called ‘acoustic attacks,’ Diario de Cuba (Sept. 28, 2017).