Too much is enough, the White House has decided, about continuing attacks on diplomats, staffers, and families in Cuba. The Trump administration has ordered all non-essential personnel to evacuate the communist bastion after an ongoing series of “sonic” assaults aimed at both Americans and Canadians:
The US State Department is pulling out all families of employees and nonessential personnel from Cuba, after a string of mysterious sonic attacks against US diplomats, according to two US officials.
The American Embassy will continue to operate with a reduced staff. The sources said the US will stop issuing visas in Cuba effective immediately. …
US officials say there may have been as many as 50 attacks, a senior US official told CNN, the most recent in August. Some victims have had long lasting symptoms and, in at least one case, permanent hearing loss.
The US will also stop issuing visas for travel from Cuba, and warn Americans against traveling to the island. The State Department announced that some of the attacks have taken place in hotels, and while they haven’t yet impacted tourists, they suggest that people exercise an abundance of caution:
The decision deals a blow to already delicate ties between the U.S. and Cuba, longtime enemies who only recently began putting their hostility behind them. The embassy in Havana will lose roughly 60 percent of its U.S. staff, and will stop processing visas in Cuba indefinitely, the American officials said.
In a new travel warning to be issued Friday, the U.S. will say some of the attacks have occurred in Cuban hotels, and that while American tourists aren’t known to have been hurt, they could be exposed if they travel to Cuba. Tourism is a critical component of Cuba’s economy that has grown in recent years as the U.S. relaxed restrictions.
Cuba’s foreign minister met with Rex Tillerson to forestall the move, but didn’t succeed:
An internal memo was sent to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson suggesting a drawing down of personnel in Havana. The meeting this week between Tillerson and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Eduardo Rodriguez Parrilla did nothing to help assure the U.S. that Cuban officials are doing enough to protect the safety and welfare of U.S. diplomats in their country. Though Cuba is allowing U.S. investigators into the country, it has not convinced the U.S. that it’s taken any real action to prevent the health attacks.
The big question is this: Cui bono? Who wins from attacking US and Canadian diplomatic missions in Havana? The fact that this leaves the US in poor position for the upcoming transition in Cuba, as CNN notes, has some of the recalled diplomats thinking that might be by design:
Despite the harassment, some US diplomats told CNN they did want to depart, saying the reductions likely played into the hands of whoever was behind the attacks and would leave the embassy understaffed during a crucial period where Raul Castro is expected to step down as president of Cuba.
If the intent is to reduce the US footprint in Cuba for the inevitable post-Castro upheaval, then perhaps the regime has the most to gain. However, if that was the case, then why agree to the rapprochement in the first place? The regime would have been better off waiting for both Castros to shuffle off the stage and keep their anti-Americanism pure. Also, why conduct sonic attacks on Canadians too, in that case, or for that matter, at all? There are easier ways to produce a diplomatic breach than with a physical assault.
If not the Cubans, then who? The State Department and our intelligence community has probably been wrestling with that question all year. Maybe North Korea, which has a track record of bizarre attacks abroad, and which would prefer the US out of Cuba in order to protect its counter-sanctions efforts, but even that doesn’t add up when considering the attacks on Canadians — unless their covert ops teams have trouble distinguishing between us, an issue the Cubans (or the Russians) would certainly not have.
The bottom line, though, is that this is the responsibility of the Castro regime to stop, not ours. If they want diplomatic relations, then they have to provide a safe environment for it. If not, we can cut off the tourist dollars and start reapplying some of the executive sanctions to incentivize them to meet their responsibilities.