U.S. and Cuba Meet About Medical Problems of U.S. Diplomats in Cuba

On September 13, a Cuban delegation met with U.S. representatives in Washington, D.C. to discuss the medical problems experienced by some U.S. diplomats on the island. The Cuban multidisciplinary group, made up of nine scientists and physicians, members of a panel of the Cuban Academy of Sciences, was headed by Johana Tablada, United States Deputy Director General of the Cuba Foreign Ministry, and the Cuban Ambassador to the U.S., José R. Cabañas . The US team was chaired by Kenneth Merten, Assistant Principal Secretary for the Western Hemisphere, and made up of medical personnel from the U.S. Department of State.[1]

The following accounts strongly suggest that not much was accomplished at this meeting.

 U.S. Comments[2]

The only official U.S. comments about this meeting were provided after the meeting at the State Department’s general press briefing by the  Department’s spokesperson, Heather Nauert. She said, “[Some] officials from the Cuban Government are here at the State Department today. . . .to discuss some of the medical issues that our people have experienced [in Cuba].” This included some information “about what our people have been experiencing.”

 An anonymous U.S. official said this “meeting was organized after Cuba complained that Washington has withheld important details about the affected Americans’ medical conditions.”

Other U..S. officials “have frankly admitted in background conversations that they still have no idea who or what may be responsible.”

Cuban Comments[3]

The more extensive Cuba Foreign Ministry statement said the following.

“On September 13, 2018 a meeting took place in Washington D.C. between U.S. and Cuban expert scientists to exchange on the health symptoms reported by U.S. diplomats accredited in Havana.”

Before this meeting, “the Cuban team had reviewed the scarce information about the alleged incidents submitted by the [U.S.] Embassy, the publications by a medical team from the University of Pennsylvania, (especially an article published by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)), and the works by other scientists, as well as the conclusions of police investigations conducted separately by the authorities of the Cuban Ministry of the Interior and the United States Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI).”

“In the meeting, the Cuban team received a summary of the information previously reported in JAMA describing the results of medical examination of some of the diplomats. The Cuban team presented their analysis of the shortcomings of this study, challenged its main conclusions and the scientific interpretation of the  symptoms presented to them.”

“At the end of the . . . [meeting], the Cuban experts verified that the information provided is unable to support the hypothesis of health attacks and brain damage suggested so far by the Department of State, as well as the explanations of the symptoms which according to the Department of State, were reported by their diplomats.”

“The Cuban experts particularly reaffirmed that with the information exchanged it is not possible to demonstrate the existence of a new neurological medical syndrome of brain lesion type, nor it is possible to assert that a brain damage like those caused by a blow to the head  was produced without cranial trauma. This idea is impossible.”

The Cuba team “observed that the medical evidence presented has serious limitations. The majority of the cases described . . . symptoms such as: headaches, nausea, dizziness, subjective balance and sleep disorders, which are caused by functional disorders and conditions such as: hypertension, stress and many others with high prevalence in the U.S. and worldwide. The accuracy of the reports could have also been affected by the average of 203 days that lapsed from the time the alleged incidents took place to the date when medical research was conducted.”

“The neuro-psychological tests, considered to be more objective, were assessed with unusual criteria which, applied to a group of healthy individuals, would qualify all of them as ill. If the internationally established  criteria would have been applied only two subjects could be considered afflicted, the cause of which, could be attributed to different pre-existing conditions.”

“According to those studies, only three individuals were found to have mild or moderate hearing loss, with each audiogram showing correspondence with three different diseases that were probably preexisting.”

“The neuro-images showed no evidence of brain damage. Two individuals showed mild signs and a third one showed moderate signs that, according to the JAMA report, are not specific, are present in many diseases and could be attributed to processes that occurred before those persons travelled to Cuba. It has been impossible for the Cuban experts to access these images.”

“he scientific studies, the Cuban police and FBI investigations, as well as the information shared by the Department of State show a lack of evidence of any kind of attack or deliberate act. The Cuban delegation rejected categorically the use of the term ‘attack’ when there is no evidence whatsoever that support the term. The US officials underscored that they did not have an explanation for the incidents.”

“Cuba expressed its willingness to cooperate and reiterated that it is its highest interest to find an explanation to the reports described. As of February 2017, when the U.S. Embassy in Havana informed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the alleged ‘acoustic attacks’ against some officials of said diplomatic mission, Cuba has requested and provided the highest cooperation to clarify what happened, and early on suggested to hold a meeting between medical experts from both countries.”

“The Cuban delegation regretted the lack of access to clinical data and to the doctors who assessed the diplomatic personnel who reported health symptoms. Nevertheless, the Cuban team considers that today’s meeting was a positive step, and yet insufficient. To date, the scientific and medical exchange has only taken place indirectly through the publication of scientific articles, political statements and regrettable press leaks.”

“The Cuban medical team extended an invitation to the U.S. investigation team to hold another scientific exchange in Havana in the near future that can be also attended by those professionals who treated the U.S. diplomats”

Essentially the same points were made at a press conference in Washington immediately after the meeting.

Conclusion

This blogger continues to be amazed at the number of theories that have been advanced to explain these health problems and by the U.S. Government’s public inability to assign blame for these problems. [4]

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[1] Lee (Assoc. Press), US, Cuba meet on mysterious ‘health attacks’ in Cuba, Wash. Post (Sept. 13, 2018); Reuters, U.S., Cuba Officials Discuss Mysterious Embassy Health Incidents, N.Y. Times (Sept. 13, 2018); Lee (Assoc. Press), No progress as US, Cuba meet on mysterious ‘health attacks,’ Wash. Post (Sept. 13, 2018).

[2] U.S. State Dep’t, Department Press Briefing—September 13, 2018.

[3] Cuba Foreign Ministry, Specialists from Cuba reject notion of health attacks and brain damage in U.S. diplomats, CubaMinRex (Sept. 14, 2018); Cuban specialists reject the theory of “health attacks” and “brain damage” to US diplomats, Granma (Sept. 13, 2018); Cuban specialists reject in Washington theory of “health attacks” and “brain damage” to US diplomats, Cubadebate (Sept. 13, 2018); Harris, Cuban Experts Insist No Proof exists of Attack on diplomats, N.Y. Times (Sept. 13, 2018).

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

U.S. and Cuba Continue To Hold Dialogues on Common Issues

On July 10 and 11, 2018, the U.S. and Cuba in Washington D.C. continued to hold bilateral meetings. On July 10, the subject was law enforcement. On the 11th, migration. As was true for other such meetings, each country released statements about the meetings. Here is a summary of those statements.

Law Enforcement Dialogue[1]

U.S. Statement

According to the U.S. State Department, the two countries  “addressed topics of bilateral interest on national security matters, including fugitives and the [U.S.] return [to Cuba] of Cuban nationals with [U.S.] final orders of removal.” They also “reviewed recent progress in the law enforcement relationship, such as new bilateral cooperation that resulted in the [U.S.] conviction of a Cuban national who murdered an American citizen and who had fled prosecution in the [U.S.], as well as areas where there is more work to be done, such as trafficking in persons.”

The U.S. also said there was discussion about “the health attacks against diplomatic personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, including two recent cases. The U.S. delegation reminded the Cubans of their responsibility to protect U.S. diplomats from harm.”[2]

Cuban Statement

The Cuban Foreign Ministry’s statement had these words about the medical issues of certain U.S. diplomats in Cuba: “The Cuban delegation urged the U.S. government to desist from the continued political manipulation of the alleged health incidents that became a pretext to adopt new unilateral measures that affect the operation of the respective embassies, particularly, the rendering of consular services depended upon by hundreds of thousands of people.”

“The investigations carried out by specialized agencies and experts from Cuba and the United States for more than one year confirmed that there is no credible evidence or hypothesis or science-based conclusions that justify the actions taken by the U.S. government against Cuba to the detriment of bilateral relations. Last June 5, U.S. Secretary of State himself affirmed that ‘the precise nature of the injuries suffered by the affected personnel, and whether a common cause exists for all cases, has not yet been established.’”

Nevertheless, the Cuban delegation “reiterated its unchanged commitment to cooperate with the U.S. authorities to clarify this situation. Ensuring the health and security of Cubans and foreign citizens is and will be a priority of the Cuban government. “

In addition, the Cuban statement said, “The purpose of these exchanges is to coordinate the bilateral cooperation in the field of law enforcement and to advance in the combat against the different crimes that threaten the security of the two countries such as terrorism, illicit drug trafficking, trafficking in persons, cybercrimes, among others.”

Cuba added, “While reviewing the exchanges on the different areas of security, the Cuban side made reference to the concrete results of this bilateral cooperation, which has contributed to prevent crimes and prosecute offenders. The Cuban delegation also made emphasis on the information and requests for cooperation [while still waiting for a U.S. response] to further advance in the implementation of this mechanism.”

“Both sides agreed to continue with this dialogue and to keep holding the technical meetings between the law enforcement agencies from both countries to bring bilateral cooperation to fruition.”

Migration Dialogue[3]

U.S. Statement

“The delegations discussed the significant reduction in irregular migration from Cuba to the [U.S.] since the implementation of the [January 12, 2017 Joint Declaration]. Apprehensions of Cuban migrants at U.S. ports of entry decreased by 88 percent from fiscal year 2017 to 2018. The [U.S.] again raised the need for increased Cuban cooperation in the [U.S.] return of Cubans with final orders of removal from the [U.S.]”[4]

The [U.S.] also reiterated that until it is safe to fully staff our Embassy, we are able to adjudicate only official and emergency visas in Havana.”

“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.].”

Cuban Statement

Both “parties acknowledged the benefits of the Joint Declaration of January 12, 2017, in particular the elimination of the policy of “Dry feet-wet feet” and the “Parole Program for Cuban Medical Professionals,” in the decrease of irregular emigration.”

“They also agreed on the usefulness of the exchange between [U.S.] Coast Guard Troops and the [Cuban] Coastguard Service held in January 2018, and the technical meeting on trafficking in persons and immigration fraud carried out in December 2017.”

In addition, “compliance with bilateral agreements was reviewed, in order to guarantee a regular, safe and orderly migration; discourage irregular migration, and prevent and confront associated illicit acts. Cuba demonstrated that it rigorously fulfills its obligations, and reiterated its willingness to maintain and expand bilateral cooperation in this area.”

“The Cuban delegation urged the government of the [U.S.] to fully comply with its commitments to issue visas for migrants, in accordance with the Migration Agreements. . . . [The U.S.] decision to suspend visa processing services at its embassy in Havana directly affects migratory relations and family ties, damaging institutional exchanges and travel between the two countries.”

The Cubans also “expressed concern about the [U.S.’] Cuban Adjustment Act, which, together with other US regulations, encourages the irregular emigration of Cubans and exposes them to becoming victims of illegal traffickers and gangs associated with organized crime.”

Conclusion

Despite the Trump Administration’s continued hostile rhetoric and actions regarding Cuba, it is reassuring that the two countries are continuing to have respectful dialogue on many common issues and reaching agreement on some of these problems. May it continue!

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[1]  U.S. State Dep’t, United States and Cuba Hold Fourth Law Enforcement Dialogue in Washington, DC (July 10, 2018); Cuba Foreign Ministry, Cuba and the United States hold fourth meeting on law enforcement dialogue, Minrex (July 11, 2018); Washington once again reminds Havana of its responsibility in the protection of its diplomats, Diario de Cuba (July 11, 2018). The most recent prior meeting was in September 2017. (U.S. State Dep’t, United States and Cuba Hold Third Law Enforcement Dialogue in Washington, D.C. (Sept. 15, 2017).) This blog has commented on prior bilateral meetings. E.g., Cuba and U.S. Continue To Hold Bilateral Meetings on Various Issues (Jan. 18, 2018).

[2]  On July 11, 2018, the issue of the medical problems of the U.S. diplomats cane up at a House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee hearing. Kenneth Merten, Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, testified, “We don’t know who is responsible and we don’t know what is responsible for this. . . . We have taken this … very seriously, both in the Cuba context and the China context which is, frankly, still very much evolving.” At the hearing, Reps. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) — the Foreign Affairs Committee chairman and ranking member, respectively — said they planned to meet with Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan on Wednesday afternoon and would discuss the health incidents with him.”  (Reuters, State Department Still Investigating Diplomats’ Illnesses in Cuba, China, N.Y. Times (July 11, 2018); Greenwood, State Dept: No answers in sonic attacks in Cuba, China, The Hill (July 11, 2018).) Prior posts about these medical problems are listed in the “U.S. Diplomats Medical Problems in Cuba, 2017-18” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries.com—Topical: CUBA.

[3] U.S. State Dep’t, U.S. and Cuba Hold Biannual Migration Talks in Washington, DC (July 11, 2018); Cuba Foreign Ministry, Migratory Round Held between Cuba and the United States (July 11, 2018); Celebrated Migratory round between Cuba and the United States, Cubadebate (July 11, 2018). Two days before the latest migration meeting, a Cuba Foreign Ministry official in an  interview asserted that Cuba  has “rigorously” complied with its migration agreements with the U.S. despite the U.S. creation of “obstacles to the fulfillment of its obligations.” (Cuba Foreign Ministry, Cuba strictly complies with migration agreements with the US, MINREX (July 9, 2018).)

[4] The January 2017 Joint Declaration eliminated the U.S. policy of admitting into the U.S. Cubans who arrived on land with “dry feet” and the U.S. Program for Parole for Cuban Medical Personnel. See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: U.S. Ends Special Immigration Benefits for Cubans (Jan. 13, 2017); Additional Reactions to End of Special Immigration Benefits for Cubans (Jan. 14, 2017); Other Current Developments Regarding Cuban Migrants to U.S. (Jan. 15, 2017).