A “War of the Decibels” in Cuba

U.S._Embassy_in_Havana_(20580326481)

Michael J. Bustamante (NACLA) writes that “in the wake of mysterious ‘acoustic attacks’ on U.S. diplomats in Havana, normalization efforts further unravel.” Here are excerpts; I recommend reading the complete article at NACLA:

Bizarre. A head-scratcher. Straight out of the Cold War. Few descriptors for the latest diplomatic flap between Cuba and the United States don’t sound cliché. Whatever explains the alleged “sound attacks” on U.S. personnel in Havana, Graham Greene and Antonio Prohías—the Cuban-born creator of Mad magazine’s “Spy vs. Spy”— would have had a field day. [. . .]

Birth of a Scandal

Secretary of State Tillerson’s decision to leave only a skeleton staff at the U.S. Embassy in Havana comes on the heels of weeks of mounting public tensions. Ever since the “sound attack” story broke in August, Havana has rejected any allegation of responsibility. Cuba’s leadership had already allowed the FBI to come and investigate in early 2017. Months ago, Raúl Castro personally assured then U.S. Chief of Mission Jeffrey de Laurentis that he was equally puzzled by what had taken place. Given that these “incidents” started last fall, it is a testament to restraint on both sides that the story remained out of the public eye for almost a year.

After the events came out, a measured, if terse tone seemed to prevail. Yes, Washington had quietly sent two Cuban diplomats packing as a warning shot back in May. But until late summer, U.S. officials used the word “incidents” rather than “attacks” to describe the strange occurrences. Indeed, no coherent theory accounts for either the range of symptoms experienced by victims, or how anyone in Cuba—an anti-normalization element in the state security services, or the security services of another government—would have gotten their hands on the technology required. This has led to caution against ascribing direct responsibility to the Cuban government. Experts question whether any sonic device exists in the world that can produce the health effects reported, and in such narrow spaces. (In one case, a single hotel room is said to have been targeted.)

[. . .] As a result of the U.S. embassy staff reduction, virtually all consular operations in Havana will cease. Not only is this heartbreaking for those who have waited months, or years, to join relatives via family reunification visas; it also means that professional, artistic, and academic exchanges will grind to a halt. (More salt to the wound: fees for visa appointments already scheduled, but now cancelled, cannot be reimbursed.) As serious, the de facto closing of the consulate will likely put the United States in violation of one of its longest standing bilateral agreements with Cuban authorities: the Migration Accords of 1994-1995, reaffirmed and updated by Cuba and the Obama administration in early 2017. This pact obligates Washington to issue a minimum of 20,000 travel documents to Cubans for permanent immigration each year. However, with no real consular operation on the ground, there is no way the Trump administration will be able to meet this mark.

Meanwhile, the expulsion of Cuban diplomats from Washington will bring about a similar result, albeit in the other direction. For Cubans already living in the United States, the Cuban consulate in D.C. is an unavoidable purgatory, as even former migrants nationalized as U.S. citizens must enter Cuba to visit with a valid Cuban passport or entry visa. Applying for and keeping this documentation up-to-date was already an expensive chore. At $375, the cost of applying for a Cuban passport from the United States is steep, and though technically valid for six years, it has to be “prorrogado” (a nonsensical “extension”) every two for an additional fee. But now there will be all of one consular official left to handle such transactions. Paperwork that already could take months may now linger incomplete.

This does not appear a coincidence. The decision to expel Cuban diplomats was by no means necessary in the absence of definitive evidence of Cuban culpability in the sound “attacks.” But more to the point, the United States chose which personnel at the Cuban embassy to send home. In addition to the staff of the business section (responsible for courting U.S. companies to invest and lobby against the embargo), the consular bureau seems to have been singled out. Conservative Cuban-Americans like Marco Rubio have long held the thinly veiled view that remittances and diaspora travel to the island, like U.S. travel more broadly, are nothing more than convenient “lifelines to the regime.” Could this be more evidence of Rubio’s outsized degree of influence over the Trump administration’s Cuba policy specifically, and its Latin America policy in general?

What is not in doubt is that voices long against normalized relations with Cuba are seizing on the moment to push for a broader repeal of the Obama legacy. If the results of the first round of policymaking in June were mixed, “sonic attacks” now provide the perfect excuse to go for goal. With Fidel gone, Venezuela in shambles, and the Wet Foot, Dry Foot “escape valve” conveniently shut, pro-embargo Miami TV commentators have seemed eager to put a new “pressure cooker” theory to the test. One source reports that renewed restrictions on Cuban-American travel and remittances are being contemplated. If that is true, it will be the clearest evidence yet that the forces opposed to engagement are using this opportunity to advance an agenda that, polls show, is not even popular with most Cuban-Americans. [. . .]

For full article, see https://nacla.org/news/2017/10/09/%E2%80%9Cwar-decibels%E2%80%9D-cuba

 

 

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