By Serio Alejandro Gómez, Dominio Cuba
There are a great number of questions surrounding a series of mysterious and unproven health incidents involving American diplomats in Havana, Cuba. Did something really happen? If so, and that’s a big if, who might be behind these alleged events? What kind of technology might have been used?
But the main and perhaps more important question would be who could benefit from all this. It is a key issue, because a year and a half long investigation has not produced a single shred of evidence to support the hypothesis that American personnel were victims of some kind of deliberated “attack” while on duty in the island. Even fewer facts point to a Cuban participation.
Surely it is not the Cuban Government the one who profits from this.
“Surely it is not the Cuban Government” the one who profits from this, stated Carlos Fernandez de Cossio, the Foreign Ministry’s Director General for U.S. Affairs. “Surely it is not the people of Cuba and surely we don’t see any way in which the people of the United States gain anything from this”.
Washington dramatically reduced the number of diplomats in both Embassies supposedly because of these incidents. While 17 officials of Cuban embassy to the United States were ordered to leave the country by the State Department, more than 60 percent of the American diplomatic personnel in Havana were recalled.
The American Embassy in Cuba practically paralyzed its consular services for Cubans since September 2017, and hundreds of thousands of families are still being affected because of this unilateral decision.
Cubans interested in obtaining an immigrant visa to the US are now forced to request an interview at the US Embassy in Guyana. They have to travel to that country, pay for a stay of several days while they attend the interview and get the results, as well as undergo a mandatory medical examination in Guyana for which they have to pay as well. All this with no guarantee that their visas will be approved, even after the expenditure of several thousands of dollars in the process.
Cossio stressed that there is “nothing to earn” in terms of the bilateral relationship. “The level of contacts, the level of mutual information, and the capacity to understand of each country and what is going on in each country, is reduced if you reduce the diplomatic staff of both Embassies”.
“The ones who benefit from the situation are those organized and motivated by trying to establish a conflict between our two countries”, he said without mentioning specific names. “Among them, people who have made a living and make money out of hostilities toward Cuba”.
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida is the most visible face of the Cuban American hardliners who have benefited the most from Washington´s policy of opposing any rapprochement with Havana.
He was the mastermind behind the resetting of the US-Cuba policy adopted by the Trump Administration in June, 2017 to intensify the application of the blockade.
Rubio has used these alleged health incidents with American personnel in Havana to demand the eventual closing of the US Embassy in the island and cutting diplomatic ties.
“They do not represent the sentiments of the majority of the people in the United States, yet they speak as if they were representing or acting on behalf of the willingness of the majority in the United States”, Cossio said about politicians who work to achieve more confrontation.
“That’s what we believe is disturbing in the way in which the Government, and specifically the State Department of the United States, has been acting and conducting itself regarding this issue”, he added referring to the unproven health incidents.
What the United States authorities are doing is “harming the interests of both the people of Cuba and the people of the United States”, he said.
A Matter of Timing
Timing is something to take into account. The unbelievable story of US diplomats that would have suffered hearing loss and other health problems during their tour of duty in Cuba was published by the media in August last year, but the first of such alleged incidents dates back to November 2016.
The governments of Cuba and the United States were by then advancing quickly towards the completion of more than 22 agreements, including but not limited to environmental protection, the reopening of non-scheduled flights and the cooperation in the area of security and safety.
After a long history of aggressions and attempts by the US government to subdue by starvation the Cuban people, the Obama Administration acknowledged on December 17, 2014, that the blockade policy had failed and accomplished only the isolation of the United States.
The political backdrop between the two old Cold War enemies changed completely, and for the next two years both Governments started advancing toward normalizing their links.
If the Cuban government never resorted to the use of aggressive methods against US diplomats out of its revolutionary principles, even when tension was at its height and an American invasion was a real threat, what would be the logic to start doing so now, after the decision to reestablish ties with Washington? This question astonishes the experts.
“In the many years since the beginning of the Cuban Revolution, in which our relations with the United States have been very difficult –it is clear we have been political adversaries for a long time–, the US Government can´t find a moment in which any of their citizens have felt unsafe in Cuba”, Cossio said.
One of the hypothesis run by some American news media is that a third country may have been involved, specifically China or Russia. But the idea lacks of history backgrounds.
Both Chinese president Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin visited the island in the months previous to the announcement of December 17 and later congratulated the United States for its opening towards Cuba, a position shared by the international community of nations.
Moscow and Beijing have also reasons to support the end of American blockade to Cuba in order to capitalize on old economic investments and political ties with a country only 90 miles away from Florida shores.
Cuban authorities have denounced the “political manipulation” of these alleged health incidents and the way they have been used to rollback any previous advance in the bilateral relations just to go back to the Cold War times.
“The way the US Government has dealt with this issue is disturbing, and there has been political manipulation from the very beginning”, Cossio said. “They have been throwing accusations at Cuba without any evidence to sustain them and without any credibility whatsoever”.
“It began with the notion that there were sonic or acoustic attacks”, he said. “When the scientific community dismissed these allegations –because it was impossible technologically and physically– they changed the history and started speaking about a viral attack, which was dismissed also by scientists”.
Cuba even allowed the FBI to undertake investigations on the ground in Cuba. In a FBI report obtained by the Associated Press, the agency said it had no evidence that sonic waves caused damage to American staffers based in Cuba.
“Most recently they’ve been speaking of brain injuries. The type of brain injuries that are produced by concussions to the brain, but without any concussions having occurred”, Cossio added. “And even though some papers had been written trying to support these allegations they´d also been severely questioned by the scientific community”.
The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published a study revealing some data about American diplomats supposedly affected. The article has come under heavy criticism, not only in Cuba but around the globe.
In a paper published in the journal Cortex, the authors Sergio Della Sala and Roberto Cubelli highlighted the poor neuropsychology basis used by JAMA.
Most of the “cognitive dysfunction” reported in the study wasn’t actually dysfunction. Della Sala and Cubelli argue that JAMA relied on a very broad definition of “impairment” that would generate many false positives.
“The condition suffered by the US diplomats in Cuba has been labelled mysterious. The real mystery though is how such a poor neuropsychogical report could have passed the scrutiny of expert reviewers in a first class outlet”, Della Sala and Cubelli concluded.
To date there is no credible explanation for the variety of symptoms described, and experts deny that the laws of physics could even apply in some of the hypothesis stated.
However, “from the very beginning, the Government of Cuba expressed that we needed a bilateral cooperation and good faith so that we could try to find answers, try to find explanations to what they allege”, Cossio said. It was not what Cubans found from their American counterparts.
“The State Department hasn’t been forthcoming in providing information”, Cossio said. “Which leads us to ask, what do they fear? What are they hiding in the way they’ve dealt with this issue?”
Trying to Tarnish the Cuba’s Image
The lack of evidence, the complexity of the investigation and the perplexity of the experts have not prevented some from trying to point at Cuba as the nation responsible for these alleged incidents.
“They are trying to tarnish the image of Cuba as a safe destination for visitors”, Cossio Said. “Cuba is recognized for its safety in terms of the absence of crime, organized crime, violence, instability”.
“The US Government knows, perhaps better than any other government, that the Cuban Government has been very responsible and very serious for many years in protecting and ensuring the security and the safety of diplomats from the U.S. and diplomats from any country, as we are very serious in protecting the safety of any foreign visitor and protecting the safety of Cuban citizens”, Cossio said.
The Cuban diplomat said that Americans continue to visit Cuba, but in lesser numbers than last year. “They see for themselves that it is a safe country and that it is warm what they find, not only in the temperature but warm in the hospitality of Cubans. That it is a place where they are welcomed, that it is a place where they have nothing to fear and much to learn and to enjoy”.