Unless Cuba comes clean about the embassy attacks on U.S. diplomats, it will put renewed ties at risk

The Miami Herald, September 19, 2017

Unless Cuba comes clean about the embassy attacks on U.S. diplomats, it will put renewed ties at risk

By Miami Herald Editorial Board

The U.S. embassy in Havana, Cuba AP

The strange case of U.S. diplomats in Cuba who suffered hearing loss and brain injury from mysterious sound waves emitted as they worked at the U.S. embassy in Havana seriously tests the emerging relations between the two countries.

Since the story broke last month, there are 21 confirmed victims — and there could more. Some have chronic hearing loss or concussions. Others have suffered from nausea, migraines, and tinnitus. They have also reported difficulties concentrating or remembering recent events.

The matter is so serious, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Sunday warned that he is weighing the possibility of closing the embassy. On Friday, five Republican senators — including Florida’s Marco Rubio — asked Tillerson to shut down the embassy and also to expel all Cuban diplomats in the United States if the Cubans are clearly to blame for the atrocious “health attack” on American diplomats. That, indeed, should be the result. But strong evidence is needed.

Several victims said they felt vibrations or heard sounds only in some locations in rooms in the embassy. That has the Americans to think that they may have been victims of “sonic attacks.” Some victims did not hear anything, but suffered similar symptoms.

The Cuban government vehemently denies any involvement in the events. For their part, American investigators are considering several hypotheses, including an intentional attack with sonic waves, or with an electromagnetic weapon. It also could have been a spying operation — an effort to eavesdrop — that went terribly wrong.

Another hypothesis is that the guilty party could be a player other than the Cuban government, a third country with an embassy in Cuba or even a dissident faction within Raúl Castro’s own regime, both outside-the-box explanations.

The truth is that this attack has strained the already difficult relations between Washington and Havana, ties renewed to much fanfare in 2015.

On Tuesday, officials from both governments meet in Washington to discuss the incidents. The distressing episodes must be thoroughly investigated, and the Cuban government must present more coherent explanations and not merely say that it had nothing to do with the incidents.

The attacks endanger relationships that began a few years ago, a new bond that has seen some achievements but too many difficulties; as many hopes as frustrations.

Still, improvement in the abuse of human rights in Cuba, which many thought would occur with the rapprochement between both nations, has not yet occurred, which is why the Editorial Board supported President Trump’s new business and travel restrictions imposed in June. Now, suddenly, there are these unexplained attacks against U.S. diplomats.

They need an explanation, and they need to stop. Our career diplomats put themselves in danger in the world’s hotspot every day, and these attacks are unacceptable. Cuba has much to lose if its still-flimsy relations with the United States are broken and it is again isolated without commercial and tourism ties to the economic power 90 miles away.

U.S. officials must demand that Cuba clarify the issue, determine who is responsible, and ensure the safety of our representatives on Cuban soil. It’s a lot to ask of such a perennially untrustworthy regime that, if it spurns U.S. demands, does so at its own risk.