U.S. Embassy in Cuba Issues “Hotel Restrictions in Havana” Security Message

On October 6, the U.S. Embassy in Cuba issued “Security Message for U.S. Citizens: Hotel Restrictions in Havana.”[1] It stated the following:

  • “Over the past several months, numerous employees at the U.S. Embassy in Havana have been targeted in specific attacks. Affected individuals have exhibited a range of physical symptoms including ear complaints and hearing loss, dizziness, headache, fatigue, cognitive issues, and difficulty sleeping. Attacks have occurred in U.S. diplomatic residences, as well as in two hotels: Hotel Nacional and Hotel Capri.” (Emphasis added.)
  • “The U.S. government has imposed limitations on lodging at affected hotels.” (Emphasis added,)
  • “If you believe you have suffered any of these symptoms following stays in Cuba, please consult a medical professional.”

CBS News the same day (but apparently before the issuance of the above “Security Messages”) reported that according to an unnamed State Department official, “Since we issued the September 29 Travel Warning, we have received a handful of reports from U.S. citizens who report they experienced similar symptoms following stays in Cuba. We have no way of verifying whether they were harmed by the same attacks targeting official U.S. employees.” [2]

This blog previously criticized the Department’s September 29 “Cuba Travel Warning” as unjustified and over broad because the “incidents” or “attacks” then had only happened to U.S. diplomatic personnel at their residences or certain hotels in Havana. Since then, there have been reports of non-diplomatic personnel from the U.S. experiencing similar symptoms after traveling to Cuba without specification of where they had stayed.

This unusual, if not unprecedented, “Hotel Restrictions” should have been incorporated in, and thus narrowed, this recent Travel Warning.

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[1] U.S. Embassy in Cuba, Security Message for U.S. Citizens: Hotel Restrictions in Havana (Oct. 6, 2017); US publishes ‘hotel restrictions’ on citizens traveling to Cuba, Diario de Cuba (Oct. 7, 2017).

[2] Dorsey, Some private citizens complain of health symptoms after visiting Cuba, CBS News (Oct. 6, 2017); Assoc. Press, US: A Few Visitors to Cuba Claim Symptoms Similar to Attacks, N.Y. Times (Oct. 6, 2017); Reuters, Some U.S. Visitors to Cuba Complain of Symptoms Similar to Embassy ‘Attacks:’ U.S,., N.Y. Times (Oct. 6, 2017).

GOP Senators Ask Administration To Take Actions Against Cuba Over U.S. Diplomats      

On September 15 five Republican Senators asked U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to take certain actions against Cuba as a result of the medical problems being experienced by some of the U.S. diplomats who have been stationed in Cuba.[1]  The requested actions are the following:

  1. “Remind the Cuban government of its obligation to protect American diplomats [under Article 29 of the Geneva Convention on Diplomatic Relations].”
  2. “Demand that [the Cuban government] take verifiable action to remove these threats to our personnel and their families.”
  3. “Declare all accredited Cuban diplomats in the [U.S.] persona non grata [and thereby prompt Cuba to have them leave the U.S. under Article 9 of the Geneva Convention on Diplomatic Relations].’”
  4. “If Cuba does not take tangible action, close the U.S. Embassy in Havana.”

The five senators are the leader of this effort, Marco Rubio (FL), plus John Cornyn (TX), Richard Burr (NC), James Lankford  (OK) and Tom Cotton (AR), all members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which is chaired by Senator Burr.[2]

Separately there were new reports about other details of the problems of U.S. diplomats in Cuba.  U.S. diplomats on temporary duty in Havana stay in four hotels near the U.S. embassy, and all four have been sites of “medical attacks.” In addition to Hotel Capri, which was identified in a prior post, they are Hotel Nacional, Hotel Melia Cohiba, and Hotel Melia Habana. (The two “Melia” hotels are owned by a Cuban government agency, Cubanacan.) Rachel Maddow on her September 15th MSNBC show said that NBC News had learned that President Castro had offered to conduct a joint U.S.-Cuba investigation of this matter and that the U.S. had not responded to this offer.[3]

Meanwhile the U.S. and Cuba on September 15 held a meeting in Washington to discuss bilateral cooperation in law enforcement. According to the U.S. State Department, the discussions covered “national security matters, including fugitives and the return of Cuban nationals with final orders of removal” as well as “the incidents affecting diplomatic personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Havana.” The Cuban statement more generally said the discussions were about such issues as  terrorism, illicit trafficking in drugs and persons, and cybercrime. This meeting was the third such meeting; the first two were held during the Obama Administration.[4]

Conclusion

As is well known, Senator Rubio, a Cuban-American citizen, consistently has opposed U.S. efforts to normalize relations with Cuba, and thus it is not surprising to see him apparently initiate the above statement with the support of four of his Republican colleagues.

The good news is that the other 95 senators were not part of this statement, that Cuba by all reports continues to cooperate on investigating the circumstances surrounding these health issues and that the Trump Administration is not jumping to preordained conclusions about these issues.

This statement by Senator Rubio and four others was not justified and should be resisted by all U.S. citizens and their representatives in Washington. Instead allow the U.S. State Department and other agencies with Cuban assistance to continue their investigation in a professional and objective manner.

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[1] Dorsey, Five GOP senators ask Tillerson to close Cuba embassy after attacks on diplomats, CBS News (Sept, 15, 2017).

[2]  Rubio Press Release, Rubio, Colleagues Ask Tillerson to Expel Cubans, Close Embassy after Attacks on U.S. Diplomats (Sept. 15, 2017); Cotton Press Release, Senators Ask Secretary of State to Expel Cubans and Close Embassy Over Attacks on U.S. Diplomats (Sept. 15, 2017); Reuters, U.S. Lawmakers Want Retaliation for Sonic Attacks in Cuba, N.Y. Times (Sept. 15, 2017); Assoc. Press, The Latest: GOP senators want US pushback on Cuba, Wash. Post (Sept. 15, 2017).

[3] Rachel Maddow, Mysterious attack on US diplomats in Cuba confounds (Sept. 15, 2017).

[4] State Dep’t, [U.S.] and Cuba Hold Third Law Enforcement Dialogue in Washington, DC (Sept. 15, 2017); Cuba Foreign Ministry, Cuba and [U.S.] Authorities . . . Held Third Round of the Dialogue on Application and Compliance with the Law in Washington (Sept. 15, 2017);   The earlier law enforcement dialogues were discussed in these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: U.S. and Cuba Hold Law-Enforcement Dialogue (Nov. 9, 2015)(comment to Developments in U.S.-Cuba Normalization (Nov. 8, 2015); United States and Cuba Hold Second Law Enforcement Dialogue (May 19, 2016).