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).

 

More U.S. Diplomats with Medical Problems in China

On June 29, the U.S. State Department announced that another six U.S. diplomats or family members had been evacuated from the U.S. Consulate in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, after experiencing “abnormal sounds or sensations, and apparently taken for evaluation to the University of Pennsylvania for medical evaluation. This brings the total of such evacuations to eight. The problems in Guangzhou did not occur at the Consulate, but at an apartment tower in the city where a number of consulate employees live.[1]

In addition, the U. S. disclosed that one employee from the its consulate in Shanghai and two from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing also had been sent to the U.S. for further medical tests., bringing the overall total of such evacuations from China to 11.

These problems in China appear to be similar to the medical problems of at least 26 U.S. diplomats and members of their families in Havana, Cuba.[2]

The website for the U.S. Embassy in Beijing China released a statement that on June 28 Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke by phone with Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi. After sentences about their discussion about their “shared goal of the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” it said they “discussed ongoing cooperation on the recent health related incident in Guangzhou, China.”[3]

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[1] Myers, More Americans Evacuated From Chins Over Mysterious Ailments, N.Y. Times (June 30, 2018).  See also previous posts to dwkcommentaries.com: U.S. Establishes Task Force To Coordinate Response to Health Problems of U.S. Diplomats in Cuba and China (June 5, 2018); Comment: More U.S. Diplomats Report Illness in China (June 6, 2018);Comment: China Pledges to Investigate Sonic Attacks on U.S. Diplomats (June 7, 2018); Comment: U.S. Broadens Health Alert to All Americans in China (June 8, 2018).

[2] See posts to dwkcommentaries.com listed in the “U.S. Diplomats Medical Problems in Cuba, 2017-18” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

[3] U.S. Embassy & Consulates in China, Secretary Pompeo’s Call with Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi (June 28, 2018).

 

Recent Developments Regarding U.S. Diplomats Sickened in Cuba 

There have been two recent developments regarding U.S. diplomats sickened in Cuba.

New Confirmed Case in Cuba [1]

The first was on June 21, when the U.S. State Department announced that a 25th U.S. diplomat working at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba has been sickened by a mysterious illness. This case suggests that “whatever caused the illnesses in late 2016 and the first part of 2017 had started again or was continuing. Yet the U.S. at least privately still states that it has no idea of whom or what may be behind the attacks.

This is one of the two potential cases that the U.S. announced on June 8, as discussed in a previous post. The other individual is still under evaluation.

The official announcement of this development came at the June 21 Department Press Briefing, when spokesperson Heather Nauert stated the following:

  • “On June 21st, following a comprehensive medical evaluation, one U.S. diplomat working at the U.S. Embassy Havana was medically confirmed to have experienced health effects similar to those that were reported by members of the U.S. Havana diplomatic community. This is the first medically confirmed case in Havana since August of 2017. The number of Americans now affected is 25. Previously, that number was 24; it is now 25. The health and well-being of our personnel remains our top priority here at the State Department. The investigation into the origin of these symptoms continues, and it is an interagency effort.”
  • “The interagency community continues to work diligently to determine the cause of the symptoms, as well as develop mitigation measures. We informed the Cuban Government of this occurrence on May the 29th of this year. The Cuban Government assured us that they will continue to take this seriously and are continuing their investigation. We strongly remind the Cuban Government of its responsibility under the Vienna Convention to protect our diplomats.”
  • “Our other employee is still being evaluated at this time, so we don’t have any updates on his or her condition yet.”
  • The U.S. has “had conversations with the [Cuban] government, reminding them, of course, of their responsibility under the Vienna Convention. They have pledged to be of assistance in the investigation. . . .”

Other Patients Have Retained Attorney

The other recent development has been at least eight of the 25 U.S. diplomats, intelligence officers and relatives with medical problems from their service in Cuba have hired an attorney, Mark Zaid, to take action to ensure reimbursement for medical expenses.[2]

Zaid, a Washington, D.C. attorney who often represents former/current federal employees who have grievances against the U.S. government, said, “Are they being treated or are they being studied? It’s not entirely clear what is happening.” He added that some of the victims had problems accessing their medical records at the UPenn treatment center because the records are government property. “They are doctors working for the U.S. government.”

Moreover, the attorney added that the uncertainties tied to the cases have placed the government in a predicament because of the mystery not just on the so-called attacks but the injuries experienced. For example, federal employees who have been injured by incidents such as explosions, “the wounds have been specific and concrete, not strange brain and neurological damages. It’s much more complicated.”

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[1] U.S. State Dep’t, Department Press Briefing-June 21, 2018; Harris,25th Person at U.S. Embassy in Cuba Is Mysteriously Sickened, N.Y. Times (June 21, 2018); Assoc. Press, 1 More US Worker Confirmed Hurt by Mystery Cuba Incidents, N.Y. Times (June 21, 2018).

[2] Torres, These Americans suffered severe neurological disorders in Cuba. Now they have a lawyer, Miami Herald (June 20, 2018).

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.

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[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]

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[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).

 

Call for U.S., Canada and Cuba Joint Investigation of Medical Problems of U.S. and Canadian Diplomats in Cuba  

Luis Velázquez, a Cuban neurologist who was recently appointed president of the Cuban Academy of Sciences, has asked the US and Canadian national science academies for a joint scientific inquiry to examine the evidence behind the alleged attacks on U.S. and Canadian diplomats in Cuba.[1]

The need for such an investigation was buttressed by a letter published in the Journal of Neurology, by Sergio Della Sala and Robert McIntosh, both neuroscientists at the University of Edinburgh, who claim that a U.S. report by University of Pennsylvania scientists is seriously flawed.[2]

Della Sala said much of the evidence the doctors used to propose a new concussion-like syndrome came from six diplomats who each took 37 cognitive tests. The tests looked at visual and auditory attention, working memory, language, reasoning, movement and other cognitive abilities. In their report, the US doctors reveal that all six embassy staff who had the full battery of tests had some brain impairment or another.

But Della Sala and McIntosh say anybody who took the tests would have been classed as impaired. They point out that it is standard practice with cognitive tests to measure people’s performance against others in the population. Often, a person has to score in the bottom 5% to be considered impaired. But the US doctors set the threshold at 40%, meaning that by definition, four in 10 who take the test will be “impaired”.

Della Sala and McIntosh ran a simulation that looked at the probability of passing all 37 tests when the threshold for failure was set so high. “The chances that somebody will be without an impairment is zero,” Della Sala said. “We ran the simulation 1,000 times, and never, ever is there one single individual who appears to be normal. They are all classed as impaired.”

Mark Cohen, a professor of neurology and pioneer in functional brain imaging at University of California, Los Angeles, said there was insufficient evidence to link the diplomats’ health problems to the sounds they heard. “These are symptoms which are typical of many, many causes,” he said. “It is an incautious leap to presume that the cause was related to the reports of sounds heard by these diplomats.”

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[1]  Sample, Cuba calls on US and Canada to investigate ‘sonic attack’ claims, Guardian (May 29, 2018).

[2] The University of Pennsylvania study is referenced in these posts to dwkcommentaries: Discovery of Brain Abnormalities in U.S. Diplomats in Havana with Medical Damage (Dec. 6, 2017); Medical Report on U.S. Diplomats with Health Problems Occurring in Cuba (Feb. 16, 2018); Cuba’s Latest Commentary on “Alleged” Health Incidents Affecting U.S. Diplomats in Cuba (April 27, 2018). Other posts about this situation are listed in the “U.S. Diplomats Medical Problems in Cuba, 2017-18” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

Cuba’s Latest Commentary on “Alleged” Health Incidents Affecting U.S. Diplomats in Cuba

On April 26 Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba, published what it called “the 10 most common lies about alleged health incidents affecting U.S. diplomats in Cuba.”[1] Here is an analysis of the truth of those assertions without attempting to assess whether there have been lies about these assertions.[2]

  1. U.S. DIPLOMATS WERE VICTIMS OF “ATTACKS” IN CUBA

GRANMA: “The use of the word “’attack”’implies a certain position with regard to the incidents. Neither Cuban or U.S. authorities have been able to identify the origin or cause of the alleged incidents, which are by their very nature profoundly sensationalist. “

GRANMA: “An FBI report leaked by Associated Press noted that there is no evidence of a ‘sonic attack’ against U.S. diplomatic personnel in Cuba. Nor have those working the case been able to identify possible authors or persons with the motive, intent or means, to carry out such actions.
If this were a court trial, the case would be missing a perpetrator, the device, and victims. Despite this, the international press and White House, continue to use the word “’attack..’”

RESPONSE: It is true that neither the U.S. nor Cuba publicly has identified the origin or cause of the health problems some U.S. diplomats  have experienced in Cuba, but there is enough public information to support the contention that there have been some adverse health problems. Thus, it is inappropriate for Granma to suggest that there have been no adverse effects. It also is true that some U.S. officials use the word “attack” to refer to these incidents, and the public record to date does not support such a contention.

  1. CUBA POSESES A STATE-OF-THE-ART “SONIC DEVICE

GRANMA: “Since the story hit the headlines the theory has circulated that a state-of-the-art sonic weapon could be responsible for the incidents. However, this has been overwhelmingly refuted by national and international scientists.”

GRANMA: “Although sonic weapons do exist, above all in the arsenals of developed countries, for audible sound to cause damage, it would need to be as loud as plane engine and would be impossible to go undetected.”

GRANMA: “Cuba meanwhile, has categorically denied that it owns, has any knowledge of, or is familiar with such technologies.”

RESPONSE: It is true that some of the public articles have mentioned the possibility that some state-of-the-art sonic device could be responsible for the adverse medical issues of some U.S. diplomats, that there has been no public identification of such a device and that Cuba has denied that it owns, has any knowledge of or is familiar with such a device. It, therefore, would be unjustified (based on the current public record) to assert that Cuba has such a device.

  1. TARGETED ATTACKS

    GRANMA: “It seems unlikely that the alleged incidents would have occurred where they reported to have taken place: including sites guarded by the U.S. itself and without direct access from outside. The attacks would have had to have laser-like precision to affect a specific individual without also causing damage to others.”

RESPONSE: This assertion is difficult to evaluate from the outside. At most, whether or not there have been targeted attacks is at most a contention or allegation without any public evidence to prove or disprove the contention.

  1. VICTIMS SUFFERED BRAIN DAMAGE

GRANMA: “The symptoms cited by U.S. diplomats include ear pain, loss of hearing, dizziness, headaches, fatigue, cognitive problems, difficulty sleeping, and the most mysterious of all, brain damage.”

GRANMA:  “Experts have noted that there is no documented medical case of sound leading to concussions or cognitive problems. According to “Joseph Pompei, a former MIT researcher and psychoacoustics expert, “Brain damage and concussions, are not possible… Someone would have to submerge their head into a pool lined with very powerful ultrasound transducers.”

RESPONSE: It is true that public information indicates that some U.S. diplomats who had served in Cuba have reported the mentioned symptoms and that there have been public articles about possible causes. Joseph Pompei, a former MIT student, was quoted in a public article that it was impossible for some secret sonic weapon to cause concussions, brain swelling and other symptoms, but that same article quotes Vince Houghton, the curator of the International Spy Museum, as speculating that “the most likely scenario is . . . a beta test of new Russian technology that went bad.” (Birnbaum, A secret sonic weapon in Havana? Scientists say ‘no way,’ PRI’s the World (Oct. 3, 2017).) For this outsider, there has been no definitive medical or scientific conclusion on this issue.

  1. MEDICAL REPORT SUPPORTS WASHINGTON’S THEORY

GRANMA: “On February 14, a controversial article was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) entitled: Neurological Symptoms Among U.S. Diplomats in Cuba. The text has been used to lend scientific credibility to Washington’s theory. However, authors Christopher C. Muth and Steven L. Lewis noted that ‘a unifying explanation for the symptoms experienced by the U.S. government officials (…) remains elusive and the effect of possible exposure to audible phenomena is unclear.’’”

GRANMA: “The study concludes in very general terms stating that diplomats seem to ‘have sustained injury to widespread brain networks.’”

GRANMA: “According to an article in The Guardian, Robert Bartholomew, an expert in mass psychogenic illness (MPI) who teaches at Botany Downs Secondary College in Auckland, New Zealand, said he was “’lured by the study’ and claims that it reads like U.S. government propaganda. ‘It’s like the authors are trying to get us to believe an attack has occurred,’ he noted. Meanwhile, the committee of Cuban experts assigned to the case explained that the information provided has mainly been subjective, based on the statements of those affected, and the opinion of investigators, while objective data (medical exams) are insufficient and incomplete.”

RESPONSE:The JAMA article reported on examinations of 21 of the 24 individuals with symptoms by University of Pennsylvania physicians that found that the patients “appeared to have sustained injury to widespread brain networks” and “persistering disability of a significant nature.” Drs. Muth and Lewis, who were not involved in the study, urged “caution in interpreting the findings.” (Medical Report on U.S. Diplomats with Health Problems Occurring in Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 16, 2018).) 

RESPONSE: Granma sets forth an accurate quotation by Robert Bartholomew. (Sample, Fresh row over mysterious sickness affecting US diplomats in Cuba, Guardian (Feb. 24, 2018).) In an earlier Guardian article, however, Bartholomew was quoted as saying, ““None of this makes sense until you consider the psychogenic explanation.” (Borger & Jaekl, Mass hysteria may explain ‘sonic attacks’ in Cuba, say top neurologists, Guardian (Oct. 12, 2017). 

RESPONSE: This Granma assertion does not prove a lie. It merely points out that there are disagreements by various experts about what happened without resolving those disagreements.

  1. AN “ATTACK,” THE ONLY EXPLANATION

GRANMA: “Psycho-social factors have also been put forward as a possible cause for the alleged incidents, which would explain the variety of symptoms cited by Washington. In an online forum about the case, Cuban experts noted that an in-depth study of all possible causes must be carried out before forming an opinion.”

GRANMA: “Meanwhile international experts agree that: “From an objective point of view it’s more like mass hysteria than anything else,” according to Mark Hallett, the head of the human motor control section of the U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, who noted, “Psychosomatic disease is a disease like anything else. It should not be stigmatized.”

RESPONSE: Granma’s assertions do not prove the alleged lie of an “attack” being the only explanation. It merely points out some of the explanations that have been offered.

  1. CUBAN AUTHORITIES REFUSE TO COOPERATE

GRANMA: “Ever since the alleged health incidents were first reported in February 2017, Cuban authorities have dealt with the issue in a timely, serious and professional manner. Cuba even allowed FBI experts to conduct investigations on the ground on several occasions, all of which failed to find any evidence of the supposed attacks.”

GRANMA: Meanwhile, the committee of Cuban experts working the case encountered difficulties due to a lack of cooperation from U.S. authorities, who failed to share all available information, and denied Cuban authorities access to patients and their medical records.

RESPONSE: The public information confirms the assertions that Cuba has cooperated with the U.S. investigation, including having the FBI come to Cuba as part of its investigations and that Cuban authorities have not had access to the U.S. patients and their medical records. But this does not prove that the U.S. has asserted that Cuban authorities have refused to cooperate.

  1. DIPLOMATS ARE AT RISK IN CUBA

GRANMA: “Cuba is renowned for its adherence to the Vienna Convention and has never perpetrated attacks of any kind against diplomatic personnel from any country, or allowed its territory to be used to do so.”

GRANMA: “Meanwhile, Cuban diplomats have been the victims of acts of violence in the U.S. orchestrated by members of well-known terrorist groups with links to Washington.”

GRANMA: “One of the most famous cases is that of Cuban diplomat Félix García Rodríguez, who was murdered in broad daylight by members of the Omega 7 terrorist group, on September 11, 1980, while serving at the country’s United Nations mission in New York.”

GRANMA: “Cuba, faced with the threat of war or in moments of great tension, has never opted for violence. Why would it do so after making the sovereign decision to reestablish diplomatic relations with Washington?”

RESPONSE: Yes, Cuba repeatedly has asserted that Cuba seeks to comply with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, but that does not prove that Cuba did not put U.S. diplomats at risk. As previously noted, both countries have repeatedly stated that the matter is still unresolved. The earlier alleged incidents involving Cuban diplomats in the U.S. is irrelevant to the current controversy.

  1. SOUTH FLORIDA POLITICIANS ONLY CONCERNED FOR THE WELFARE OF U.S. DIPLOMATS

GRANMA: “Sectors opposed to rapprochement between the two nations have been manipulating the issue of the alleged health incidents to justify a reversal in the process to improve U.S.-Cuba relations and advance their own agenda.”

GRANMA: “The politicization of the case, which recently led to unilateral measures by the U.S. government, only benefits a small group of right-wing anti-Cubans, led by Marco Rubio, which continues to promote a hostile policy toward the island – against the interests of the country and its citizens.”

RESPONSE: Agreed that Senator Rubio and certain other politicians from South Florida consistently have opposed normalization of relations with Cuba and have used the medical problems of U.S. diplomats as another excuse as purported justification for their position. This blogger, however, consistently has supported normalization and reconciliation of the two countries.

  1. TOURISTS AT RISK

GRANMA: “As part of the political manipulation of the case, the White House alleged that in September of last year a dozen U.S. citizens who had traveled to Cuba, also experienced symptoms similar to those of the diplomats.”

GRANMA: “But bearing in mind that terms as general as dizziness and headaches are used, one can appreciate the absurdity of the accusations.”

GRANMA: “Over four million international visitors traveled to Cuba last year, including 620,000 U.S. citizens. Their experiences on the island and satisfaction, according to specialist surveys, is proof of Cuba’s tranquility, security, and stability, which has been recognized by international organizations such as the UN and other tourism agencies.”

RESPONSE: On September 29, 2017, the U.S. Secretary of State said,, “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.”(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, dwkcommentaries.com (Sept. 30, 2017).)

But on October 6, 2017, an unnamed State Department official said, “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.” (U.S. Embassy in Cuba Issues “Hotel Restrictions in Havana” Security Message, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 7, 2017).) 

Agreed that a large number of Americans have visited Cuba without experiencing any of the medical problems at issue.

CONCLUDING RESPONSE

While both countries’ frustration with the non-resolution of this situation is perfectly understandable, calling the other side liars is unfounded because neither side has grounds for saying that the other is saying something that it knows is untrue. Moreover, calling the other side liars does not aid in resolving the disputes.

 As a prior post reports, but the Granma article fails to mention, research at the University of Michigan discovered that two inaudible ultrasonic devices can create interference (intermodulation distortion) that makes sounds similar to those recorded in Cuba that some of the affected diplomats heard.  

There are competing theories of what caused the medical problems, and if that were the only dispute, the two sides could agree to submit that to a neutral fact-finder in an arbitration or some other dispute-resolution procedure. But that really is a side issue. The important issue is what can be done, if anything, to improve the health of the affected U.S. (and Canadian) personnel and to ensure that there will be no similar incidents in the future.

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 [1] Gómez, The 10 most common lies about alleged health incidents affecting U.S. diplomats in Cuba, Granma (April 26, 2018).

[2] This blog has published many posts about the issues associated with the medical problems of some U.S. (and Canadian) diplomats who were stationed in Cuba. See posts listed in the “ U.S. Diplomats Medical Problems in Cuba, 2017-18” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.