U.S. says en­voys in Cuba tar­geted

Tiller­son cites ‘health at­tacks’ for diplo­mats’ loss of hear­ing

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NEWS - MICHAEL WEIS­SENSTEIN AND MATTHEW LEE

HA­VANA — Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son said Fri­day that U.S. diplo­mats in Ha­vana were the vic­tims of “health at­tacks” that left them with hear­ing loss — the most de­fin­i­tive U.S. state­ment yet on a se­ries of in­ci­dents that have puz­zled an­a­lysts of U.S.-Cuban re­la­tions.

Tiller­son’s com­ments came two days af­ter the State De­part­ment is­sued a vague state­ment say­ing there had been “in­ci­dents which have caused a va­ri­ety of phys­i­cal symp­toms.” U.S. 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, N.J., where Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and mem­bers of his ad­min­is­tra­tion spoke to re­porters.

In the fall of 2016, sev­eral U.S. 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 said 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 U.S.-Cuba re­la­tions said they found it in­ex­pli­ca­ble that Cuba would have tried to harm U.S. and Cana­dian diplo­mats, par­tic­u­larly last fall, when Pres­i­dent Barack Obama was end­ing a sec­ond term marked partly by the re­open­ing of diplo­matic re­la­tions with the is­land.

U.S. of­fi­cials fa­mil­iar with the in­ci­dents said they be­gan to be re­ported in 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, an­a­lysts said.

“There’d be no logic to the Cubans try­ing to de­lib­er­ately harm U.S. 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 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 U.S. 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 such as tail­gat­ing and flash­ing bright lights into diplo­mats’ cars as they drove with their fam­i­lies late at night.

In ad­di­tion to ha­rass­ment, said John Caulfield, the head of the U.S. In­ter­ests Sec­tion in Cuba from 2011 to 2014, U.S. diplo­mats in Cuba are un­der 24-hour sur­veil­lance dur­ing their as­sign­ments.

“No­body does any­thing in Cuba with­out them know­ing,” Caulfield said.

Caulfield said the ag­gres­sive tac­tics largely stopped by late 2013 and 2014 as U.S. and Cuban of­fi­cials se­cretly ne­go­ti­ated the diplo­matic re­open­ing an­nounced in De­cem­ber 2014, af­ter his de­par­ture from Ha­vana.

He said he be­lieved that the like­li­est ex­pla­na­tion for the diplo­mats’ mysterious deaf­ness was “a new sur­veil­lance tech­nique gone bad that had con­se­quences. I do not be­lieve they would ran­domly cause harm to this va­ri­ety of peo­ple.”

In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Michael Weis­senstein, Matthew Lee and Rob Gillies of The As­so­ci­ated Press.

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