U.S.- Cuba Relations on Shaky Ground after Sonic Attacks at U.S. Embassy in Havana

By: Megan Kilissanly

This August, news broke out that the United States was investigating mysterious health-related incidents that affected diplomats at the American Embassy in Havana, Cuba. The State Department confirmed that 22 Americans have been affected, with symptoms ranging from permanent hearing loss to mild traumatic brain injury. The cause of these injuries is still unknown but U.S. officials believe that they were caused by a series of sonic attacks.

In response to these mysterious injuries, the State Department withdrew all nonessential personnel from the American embassy in Havana, advised Americans not to travel to Cuba, and announced the indefinite suspension of visas for Cubans. President Donald Trump also expelled 15 Cuban diplomats from the United States. Although the State Department is still investigating the cause of the attacks, President Trump believes that Cuba is responsible. The Cuban government, however, denies any responsibility for the attacks. Regardless of who is behind the attacks, Cuba is required to protect U.S. embassy workers under international law.

The United States has been criticized for its response to these attacks. Some find that the response is hostile and will further divide the two countries. Others believe that the United States has not gone far enough.

Engage Cuba, a coalition of companies and organizations that lobbies to end the U.S. embargo, has criticized the expulsion of personnel from the Cuban Embassy. The coalition’s president James Williams stated that “[e]xpelling Cuban diplomats will not solve this mystery; it will not improve the safety of U.S. personnel, but it will make it harder for hundreds of thousands of Cuban Americans to visit their families on the island.” Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), a supporter of engagement, calls the White House’s response to the attacks an example of “stunning ignorance on how to best conduct foreign policy.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and four other Republican senators asked the State Department to shut down the American embassy in Cuba. Senator Rubio finds it “ridiculous” that the Cuban government did not know about the attacks. Criticism has also come from one of the 22 Americans injured in the attacks. The victim said that the United States has responded “poorly” and that senior embassy leadership and top State Department officials ignored complaints for months.

Regardless of one’s opinion on the United States’ response to these attacks, the already delicate relationship between the United States and Cuba has been strained. Normalization of diplomatic relations began in 2015 but those relations have been rocky ever since. This June, President Trump imposed new business and travel restrictions in hopes of improving the human rights conditions on the island. Cuba’s Raúl Castro rejected these policy changes and said that Cuba “does not need to receive lessons from the United States nor anyone.” And now, these mysterious attacks present new obstacles to diplomacy.

To ensure the safety of American representatives on Cuban soil, both governments must work together to determine who is responsible for these attacks. Much can be lost if the relations between these two countries continue to deteriorate. The Cuban government should help the United States in its investigation of these attacks in order to improve diplomacy and the security of American officials.

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