The so-called health attacks on US diplomats in Cuba over the past year have drawn considerable attention, but authorities in both countries have reached few conclusions.
The Cuban government has denied involvement, and the US government has until recently not directly implicated Havana in the attacks, which have caused brain trauma, hearing loss, and other injuries among the 22 confirmed victims.
But the US has pointed to the Cuban government’s tight control of Havana and surveillance of US diplomats there to suggest it knows more about what happened than it has said.
On October 12, White House chief of staff John Kelly said the US believes that Cuban President Raul Castro’s government “could stop the attacks” on US diplomats.
The White House has not directly accused Cuba or any other actor of carrying out the attacks, and Kelly declined to answer a follow-up question about whether President Donald Trump would close the US embassy in Cuba. The US has already withdrawn more than half of its personnel at the embassy and ordered the expulsion of 15 Cuban diplomats in the US.
Asked about Kelly’s comments on Monday, Trump appeared to stake out a new US position on the incidents.
“I think Cuba knew about it, sure,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “I do believe Cuba is responsible. I do believe that, and it’s a very unusual attack, as you know, but I do believe Cuba is responsible.”
However, a State Department cable sent out on Monday took a less assertive position, saying it had “not assigned blame to the Government of Cuba,” according to the Associated Press.
“We are still investigating these attacks and do not know who or what is behind them. We continue to exchange information with Cuban investigators,” said the cable, which was marked “sensitive.”
Trump offered no new details about what might have caused the attacks; some experts are doubtful that the effects described could be caused by any existing acoustic device, and intelligence experts have told Congress that they aren’t sure about what could have caused them.
While the president’s comments appear to be a new position on the attacks, it’s not clear if he meant Cuba was the perpetrator or if it shared blame for failing to keep US diplomats safe on its soil. The State Department cited Cuba’s obligation to protect diplomats when it expelled two Cuban diplomats in August.
Cuba has agreed to let the FBI into the country for its investigation, which is an unusual step for Havana. But the probe has yet to yield a device or culprit behind the attacks.
The lack of information or accusations about who is behind the attacks has led some experts to suggest neither side knows who is responsible for them.
“Any theory is plausible at this point. But all have serious holes,” Michael Bustamante, a Latin American history professor specializing in Cuban-American affairs at Florida International University, told Business Insider earlier this month.
The US’s response has been criticised for harming US interests and for eroding the Obama-era detente with Cuba, which some have suggested is a goal of Trump’s policy toward the island. US diplomats have opposed withdrawing from the embassy there, and many in Cuba — supporters and opponents of the US and Castro alike — have scoffed at the US’s accusations.
“I don’t believe any part of it,” Luis Felipe Gonzalez, a 59-year-old taxi driver, told the AP. “It’s absurd propaganda.” Another Cuban, a 23-year-old language student, said, “It sounds like Star Wars.”
A retired US diplomat with extensive experience in Latin America has suggested the US knows more than it’s telling. “If we say we can’t identify it, it’s probably because we have one of our own,” he told the Miami Herald. “And we’re not going to let them know we know anything about it.”
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