The rebuilding of U.S.-Cuban relations experienced a strange hitch on Tuesday, as the Trump administration expelled 15 Cuban diplomats following an alleged attack on the U.S. embassy in Havana. The nature of the attack remains a mystery, as the only evidence is a shared set of inexplicable symptoms experienced by 21 U.S. diplomats and family members, as well as several Canadian diplomats. The symptoms, which began appearing among the victims shortly after the November U.S. election, and lasted until August, included hearing loss, dizziness, headache, fatigue, cognitive issues, and difficulty sleeping, according to a report made by the U.S. embassy. Several diplomats were awakened during the night by strange sounds which seemed to disappear when they left the room or moved into a different area.
While the State Department is yet to officially declare any cause for these symptoms, the theory popularly ascribed to by the media and their government contacts is that of a sonic attack.
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla announced to the U.N. general assembly that the Cuban government was not involved, but an investigation has thus far been inconclusive. Raul Castro has also authorized FBI agents to take part in the investigation, in the interest of full transparency.
The question of who is behind the attacks still remains a conundrum, even months after the initial reports. Many scientists deny or at least question the plausibility that the symptoms could have been created by a sonic attack. Other explanations such as an electromagnetic device or biological attack are similarly incapable of confidently explaining how the diplomats could be attacked so inconspicuously. A U.S. official told CNN that Castro would not have been as personally assuring if the Cuban government was responsible. The most likely interpretation is that the guilty party is someone with a vested interest in the destruction of U.S.-Cuban relations. This is a dangerous time for any kind of diplomatic interference, as President Castro is stepping down next year, marking the first time since the 1959 revolution that the Cuban presidency will not be in the hands of a member of the Castro family.
Over the past several years, relations between the U.S. and its Communist-led, island neighbor have been slowly improving after decades of tension. In December of 2014, President Obama and President Castro announced the beginning of a thawing process of hostility between the two nations, following talks between the leaders facilitated by Pope Francis and hosted mostly in Canada. The agreement included the lifting of travel and trade restrictions, as well as the reopening of both embassies. American tourists flocked to Cuba, and a closer partnership between the countries seemed forthcoming, until the 2016 election. Trump announced in June that he was “canceling the last administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba” in order to “expose the crimes of the Castro regime”. An overreaction by Trump to the still dubious claims that the Cuban government was behind the attack could deteriorate the delicate diplomatic relationship his predecessor fought to leave as part of his legacy in the latter half of his final term.
- Donate to the Center for Democracy in the Americas: The CDA is an independent, non-profit organization pushing for more friendly U.S. policy towards Cuban sovereignty. They were a key player in convincing the Obama administration to change diplomatic relations with Cuba in 2014. You can donate on their website.
- Support Engage Cuba: Engage Cuba is the leading coalition of private companies and organizations working to end the travel and trade embargo on Cuba. They focus specifically policy in the interest of strengthening ties between Cuban and U.S. businesses. You can donate or learn about ways to encourage your representative to support pro-Cuban policy on their website.
This brief was compiled by Colin Shanley. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.