World Video | Defence | Foreign Affairs | Natural Events | Trade | NZ in World News | NZ National News Video | NZ Regional News | Search

 

A Cuban Mystery: The US Embassy in Havana

A Cuban Mystery: The US Embassy in Havana

Cuba has, for decades, been a form of political pathology for US political consciousness. Fidel Castro loomed in his indestructible guise, tormenting a succession of American presidents with his seeming indestructibility. Efforts at deposing and assassination had conspicuously failed. It was left, then, to Washington to insulate, seal off and keep Cuba as an infectious patient of international relations, fearing its global reach and influence.

With the softening of this manic stance under the Obama administration, Cuba ceased being the incurable. It even had promise. US business officials were smacking their lips and rubbing hands. The new Cuba might well return to the Cuba of old, one more open to reverie, smut and cash. The diplomats would return; the US embassy would reopen in Havana.

Then, Donald Trump happened. A new administration, the government of 140 character messages, roars and expectoration. The cool seemed likely to return in the heat of intolerance and misguided encounters. In June, Trump announced that limitations on trade and tourism with Havana would be imposed. It was a corrective of sorts to yet another “one-sided deal” and halted people-to-people exchanges.

Since the fall of 2016, staff at the US embassy have been troubled. Up to 21 diplomats have been affected by what is now being considered an attack. (These had been previously deemed, in State Department speak, “incidents”.) American media outlets, from the Old Grey Lady onwards are unanimous. “It started as a medical mystery,” went the New York Times. “It then was determined to have been the result of a mysterious attack.”

The symptoms cover a considerable range: nausea, dizziness, tinnitus, difficulty with sleeping, deafness, even mild brain trauma. That these might have arisen from a sonic attack has been suggested. But speculation is rife as the coterie of experts in the field of bio-electromagnetics are entertained. What sort of weapons might have been behind this?

One such figure is Denis Bedat, who made his splash for the AFP new agency. “Ultrasonic waves, beyond the acoustic capacity of humans, can be broadcast with an amplifier, and the device does not need to be large, or used inside or outside the house.” Weapons such as the anti-riot gun in the employ of the US police forces, otherwise known as the Active Denial System (ADS), are exponents of such waves.

The Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson has been cautious in according blame, despite also pouring over a proposed plan to close the embassy in Havana. “We have it under evaluation. It’s a very serious issue with respect to the harm that certain individuals have suffered. We’ve brought some of those people home. It’s under review.”

Havana, in turn, has urged caution and restraint, expressing official bafflement at the cases. “Cuba has told us it will continue to investigate these attacks, and we will continue to cooperate with them in this effort.” This policy of cooperation is typically troubled, an appellation of suspicion and masochism.

Given that two Cuban diplomats have suffered expulsion as a result, the finger pointing is being presumed, even if those fingers are slightly askew. Punish, but not abolish; tell those in Havana that this is not the sort of thing the US will tolerate, but still keep doors open, if only slightly ajar and barely operating.

On Friday, the State Department did announce a suspension of routine visa operations, giving no clue when they would resume, while limiting official travel to Cuba by US officials, excepting those connected with the investigation or those in need of travelling to the country.

The sting in the tail, however, was a travel warning for Americans in general, suggesting danger to visitors from the US. As “our personnel’s safety is at risk, and we are unable to identify the source of the attacks, we believe US citizens may also be at risk and warn them not to travel to Cuba.”

Tillerson is exercising caution, and the theory that a third party may well be up to mischief is being floated. Officials have spoken about taking measures of protection in the name of prudence. Ambassador Barbara Stephenson, president of the American Foreign Service Association, has expressed concern that the US is prizing itself out of the diplomatic game in taking them.

“We’ve got a mission to do,” she explained to The Atlantic. “We operate all over the world, in places with serious health risks… The answer can’t be we just pull the flag down and move American presence from the field.”

Havana has expressed consternation at the moves by the Trump administration, but is still hopeful in cooperation. But all this signals, yet again, the odd mix of machismo mixed with caution; bluster with a U-turn and summersault in Trump’s version of foreign policy.


Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com


© Scoop Media

 
 
 
World Headlines

 


Save The Children: Tonga Volcano Ash And Smoke Cause Concern For Air And Water Safety
Families in Tonga are at risk of exposure to unsafe air and water due to ash and smoke from the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano that erupted on Saturday, reports Save the Children...
More>>



Sudan: 15 Attacks On Health Facilities And Workers In Two Months

With the crisis escalating in Sudan, there have been 15 reports of attacks on healthcare workers and health facilities since last November, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday... More>>

Kazakhstan: Bachelet Urges Peaceful Resolution Of Grievances
Amid alarming reports of deadly violence in Kazakhstan, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Thursday urged all, including security forces, protesters and others, to refrain from violence and to seek a peaceful resolution of grievances... More>>


Tigray: Agencies Suspend Aid As ‘Scores’ Are Killed Due To Airstrikes
Recent airstrikes on camps for internally displaced persons and refugees in Tigray, northern Ethiopia, have reportedly killed scores of civilians, including children, and left many more injured... More>>


UN News: For 25th Year In A Row, Greenland Ice Sheet Shrinks

2021 marked the 25th year in a row in which the key Greenland ice sheet lost more mass during the melting season, than it gained during the winter, according to a new UN-endorsed report issued on Friday... More>>


Afghanistan: Economy In ‘Freefall’, Threatening To Take Entire Population With It

Afghanistan’s economy is in “free fall”, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator told a special meeting on Sunday, warning that if decisive and compassionate action is not taken immediately, it may “pull the entire population with it”... More>>