Tiller­son: Cuba diplo­mats suf­fered ‘health at­tacks’

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son said Fri­day that US diplo­mats in Ha­vana had been the vic­tims of “health at­tacks” that left them with hear­ing loss - the most de­fin­i­tive US state­ment yet on a se­ries of mys­te­ri­ous in­ci­dents that have puz­zled long­time ob­servers of US-Cuban re­la­tions. His com­ments came two days af­ter the State De­part­ment is­sued a vaguely worded state­ment say­ing there had been “in­ci­dents which have caused a va­ri­ety of phys­i­cal symp­toms.” US of­fi­cials later re­vealed that Amer­i­can diplo­mats had suf­fered un­ex­plained losses of hear­ing, and on Thurs­day Canada’s govern­ment said at least one Cana­dian diplo­mat in Cuba also had been treated for hear­ing loss.

“We hold the Cuban au­thor­i­ties re­spon­si­ble for find­ing out who is car­ry­ing out th­ese health at­tacks on not just our diplo­mats but, as you’ve seen now, there are other cases with other diplo­mats in­volved,” Tiller­son said in Bed­min­ster, New Jersey, where Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and mem­bers of his ad­min­is­tra­tion spoke to re­porters. In the fall of 2016, a se­ries of US diplo­mats be­gan suf­fer­ing un­ex­plained losses of hear­ing, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cials with knowl­edge of the case. Some of the diplo­mats’ symp­toms were so se­vere that they were forced to can­cel their tours early and re­turn to the United States, the of­fi­cials said.

The of­fi­cials told The As­so­ci­ated Press that the hear­ing loss ap­peared to have been caused by the de­lib­er­ate use of some sort of sonic de­vice op­er­at­ing out­side the range of au­di­ble sound. Former diplo­mats and stu­dents of US-Cuba re­la­tions said they found it in­ex­pli­ca­ble that Cuba would have tried to harm US and Cana­dian diplo­mats, par­tic­u­larly in the fall of 2016 as Pres­i­dent Barack Obama was end­ing a sec­ond term marked partly by the re­open­ing of diplo­matic re­la­tions with the is­land.

Pol­icy of nor­mal­iza­tion

US of­fi­cials fa­mil­iar with the in­ci­dents said they be­gan to be re­ported last October, when most do­mes­tic and for­eign ob­servers ex­pected Hil­lary Clin­ton to win the pres­i­dency and con­tinue Obama’s pol­icy of nor­mal­iza­tion with Cuba. At­tack­ing Cana­dian diplo­mats would be an in­ex­pli­ca­ble as­sault on one of Cuba’s most im­por­tant trad­ing part­ners and the largest source of tourists to the is­land. “There’d be no logic to the Cubans try­ing to de­lib­er­ately harm US or Cana­dian diplo­mats,” said Wil­liam LeoGrande, an Amer­i­can Univer­sity ex­pert on Cuban for­eign pol­icy. “It’d re­ally be un­prece­dented.”

The Cuban govern­ment said in a lengthy state­ment Wed­nes­day that “Cuba has never per­mit­ted, nor will per­mit, that Cuban ter­ri­tory be used for any ac­tion against ac­cred­ited diplo­matic of­fi­cials or their fam­i­lies, with no ex­cep­tion.”

Former US and Cana­dian diplo­mats said they had been tar­gets of low-level harassment and in­tim­i­da­tion by Cuban agents in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, in­ci­dents that in­cluded at­tacks on diplo­mats’ pets and in­tim­i­dat­ing ma­neu­vers like tail­gat­ing and flash­ing bright lights into diplo­mats’ cars as they drove with their fam­i­lies late at night.

“There were things like turn­ing your elec­tric­ity, turn­ing off your wa­ter, en­ter­ing your home, leav­ing lit­tle re­minders that they were there. Things would be out of place,” said John Caulfield, the head of the US In­ter­ests Sec­tion in Cuba from 2011 to 2014.

In ad­di­tion to harassment, Caulfield said US diplo­mats in Cuba are un­der 24-hour sur­veil­lance dur­ing their as­sign­ments. “No­body does any­thing in Cuba with­out them know­ing,” Caulfield said. A US of­fi­cial said some Amer­i­can diplo­mats in Cuba had come home to find that some­one had used their toilet and not flushed it, in what was in­ter­preted as a de­lib­er­ate at­tempt to dis­gust and un­nerve. The of­fi­cial served at the then-in­ter­ests sec­tion in Cuba in the 2000s and agreed to speak only on con­di­tion of anonymity due to the pos­si­bil­ity of a re­turn to Ha­vana. — AP

SUBANG: US Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son, left, is greeted by Malaysian air force of­fi­cials as he ar­rives at a mil­i­tary base. — AP

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