Reports that U.S. government personnel, as many as 16, were injured on Cuban soil should set off alarm bells in this town. For now, however, a lot of tumbleweed and puzzled looks of whodunnit. Official accounts offered by State Department spokesman Heather Nauert are scant on details. What is clear is that he Obama administration may have put American lives in danger and Congress must investigate the matter immediately.
Nauert has, rightly, labeled the matter a series of “incidents” and that it remains under investigation. She has also said that the Cuban government is cooperating. That is probably true, since Cuba would be foolish not to do so. It is in Cuba’s interest to cooperate or, if they are involved in targeting Americans, give the appearance that they are cooperating.
Communist Cuba is a totalitarian police state. Minus the nuclear weapons, and few degrees less of generalized forms of paranoia, Communist Cuba is the North Korea of the Western Hemisphere. Cubans make it their business to know what foreigners, especially American government personnel, are doing on Cuban soil.
Despite the loss of control or risks that the re-opening the U.S. Embassy posed to the Cubans, it is a political trophy that they’ve long wanted. That they would purposely put that in jeopardy does not make a lot of sense. The Obama administration, sheepishly and cheaply, gave it to them. The American taxpayer was ripped off; however, that is a subject for another post.
Yet why engage in activities, or allow someone or some other nation to engage in activities, that have physically harmed Americans? If it is true these incidents began over a year and a half ago, it may seem even more bizarre. Why call attention, or allow someone or some other nation, to ruin the improved relations brought about by President Barack Obama? Around that time new regulations easing sanctions were in under consideration too.
Communist Party officials are obsessed with Uncle Sam and anything connected to our government. Most of their senior officials see conspiracies against them in their own shadows. There is absolutely no way that Cuba would allow U.S. government personnel on the island without some form of close monitoring. They have always kept a close eye on Americans and, so long as the Communists are in power, always will.
This business of sonic or acoustic weapons sounds unbelievable, but former political prisoners who I have worked with and known for decades have told me many times that Cuba used noise devices to torment while they were in prison. The regime also uses very advanced listening technologies to eavesdrop on dissidents as well as non-political persons, especially if they have contacts with Cubans living in the United States. So it is not, as most stories this week say, unbelievable or puzzling that Cuba would engage in this behavior.
Communists put a very low value on individuals and, yes, human life. Like the borg in Star Trek, their aim is the collective. If they have to hurt a person to preserve the community, they will do it, including foreigners and, in the case of American government personnel, more so. Civilized nations are supposed to protect foreign diplomats, but Cuban Communists are are not civilized people. Cuba would, and possibly did, attacked or allowed Americans to be attacked or injured. The Obama administration put American lives in danger. They should’ve known better and not been so trusting.
The largest deployment of U.S. government personnel to the island since 1961 was a significant event for Cuba. The regime was not going to allow American government workers to freely move around Cuba without minders and/or some form of electronic monitoring. Nothing happens in Cuba with regards to U.S. government personnel, absolutely nothing, without the security services knowing about it. The Cubans know, or should’ve known, that U.S. government personnel were being subjected to something. They may have been involved or they may have learned of it later. In my book, it generally makes no difference. If American citizens were injured, Cuba must be held to account.
There are no moderates in the Cuban regime, just anti-American hardliners. Arguments to the contrary are simply naive and wrong. If there are moderates in the regime, they must step forward and show us by deed, not words, that there are others in Cuba who seek another path forward.
The Communist officials who lord over the island are not rational actors. Don’t look for a logical explanation. Frankly we may never know what happened, but I’m certain that if Cuba was not the perpetrator, Cuba knows who did it and allowed them to do it and it may have also been part of a larger plan all along. Russia? China? Iran? All within the realm of possible. There are others. It does not matter, Cuba did it, knew or should’ve known. That should be the standard moving forward.
Until Cuba can guarantee the safety of Americans visiting Cuba or working at our embassy in Cuba, Post Havana should be temporarily closed. The Congress should immediately start investigations to find out and expose what happened. If Cuba wants to engage in more transactions with U.S. companies, as well as allow Americans to visit the island, a huge source of income for the regime, then it needs to do better than say, trust me. We can’t trust you. Access to the U.S. market is a privilege, not a right.
Temporarily closing the U.S. Embassy in Cuba for security reasons would not be without precedent in Latin America. For example, in 1999 the U.S. Embassy in Quito, Ecuador was temporarily closed because of “specific threats” against U.S. government personnel. In 2003, the U.S. embassy in Caracas was also closed temporarily because of the domestic political tensions in Caracas. In other parts of the world, in August 2001, U.S. embassies in Bulgaria and Romania were closed for a day to investigate threats to U.S. government personnel. Other embassies that have been temporarily closed because of threats include facilities in Yemen, Malaysia and the Philippines. There are many other examples.
The last documented incident of harm coming to U.S. government diplomatic personnel was at the 2012 attack on the U.S. Benghazi compounds in Libya. Now we may have Cuba to add to that list. Both under the prior administration’s watch, or lack thereof.
Temporarily shutting down Post Havana until the safety of U.S. government personnel can be assured will send a strong message to the Cuban government to get its act together and, possibly, serve as an opportunity to bring Cuba to the negotiating table to discuss a variety of issues, including this incident or incidents.
Some questions that need answering:
- Did the Obama administration alert the Congress to these incidents? If not, why not?
- What steps were taken by the Obama administration to make sure that U.S. government personnel would be safe after the embassy was opened?
- According to U.S. government experts, the embassy was in a state of despair. What steps were taken to make sure the safety of workers who fixed the embassy grounds? How were the Cuban workers who worked on the project vetted? What security measures were taken?
- Did the Obama administration alert the Trump transition teams to these incidents? If not, why not?
- When did the Obama administration learn that U.S. government personnel were getting sick?
- Create a timeline that overlays these incidents with the various regulatory amendments to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations.
- If the Obama administration knew that U.S. government personnel were in danger, did they ask Cuba about it? What did Cuba do and say?
- How exactly is the Cuban regime cooperating with U.S. investigators? General statements are not sufficient.
- If Cuba was not involved, the Cuban government must prove it. Until it does that, or reasonably makes a case that it was not involved, the Embassy should stay closed.
- Without revealing the identities of the State Department personnel, what are the exact physical symptoms that the employees are complaining about?
- The Trump administration should update the travel warnings for all Americans who are traveling to Cuba and require that these warnings be provided to potential American travelers before tickets are purchased as well as when travels board planes to travel to the island. Travel service providers or brokers such as AirBnB must provide these warnings to American travelers.