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Is Trump using ‘health attacks’ on US diplomats in Havana as an excuse to punish Cuba?

In a blow to diplomatic relations with Cuba, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Oct. 3 ejected 15 Cuban diplomats from the United States. The expulsion follows his withdrawal of most U.S. personnel from the embassy in Havana after 22 American diplomats and family members there suffered unexplained health problems. Last November, some U.S.…

Is Trump using ‘health attacks’ on US diplomats in Havana as an excuse to punish Cuba?

In a blow to diplomatic relations with Cuba, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Oct. 3 ejected 15 Cuban diplomats from the United States. The expulsion follows his withdrawal of a lot of U.S. workers from the embassy in Havana after 22 American diplomats and relative there suffered unusual illness.

Last November, some U.S. personnel in Havana started experiencing a series of signs, including hearing impairment, nausea, lightheadedness and mild cognitive impairment. Individuals impacted initially and most severely were intelligence officers, but later on victims held a variety of positions in the U.S. Embassy. Numerous Canadian diplomats were also impacted.

The United States informed the Cuban federal government of these incidents on Feb. 17,2017 Four days later, Cuban President Raúl Castro consulted with then U.S. Charge d’Affaires Jeffrey DeLaurentis and, pledging full cooperation, welcomed the FBI to investigate.

So far, however, the examination has actually been unable to determine the criminal or motive behind the strange attacks. Nearly a year after the very first events, no one even understands how the attacks were carried out. U.S. officials initially blamed some sort of sophisticated sonic weapon, however researchers have questioned whether sound waves alone could have produced the reported signs.

Is Trump using 'health attacks' on US diplomats in Havana as an excuse to punish Cuba?
Playing politics or practicing diplomacy?
United States Department of State

In this context, withdrawing U.S. workers is perhaps an affordable preventative measure. In my view, expelling Cuban diplomats in spite of Cuba’s cooperation in the investigation is unwarranted and counterproductive.

Sentence first, trial afterwards

State Department officials doubt that the Cuban government is behind the events. No evidence has emerged implicating Cuban officials, and Cuba is working together with the examination.

Nevertheless, challengers of President Barack Obama’s 2014-2016 rapprochement with Cuba have actually effectively seized upon the mysterious injuries as an excuse to penalize Cuba, ruining relations that had been improving As the Red Queen said to Alice in Wonderland, “Sentence initially, trial later on.”

When the diplomats’ health issue were initially reported openly in August 2017, Sen. Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida and a vociferous opponent of normalizing relations, demanded that President Trump close the U.S. Embassy and expel all Cuban diplomats from the United States.

Rather, on Friday, Sept. 29, Tillerson revealed the withdrawal of excessive workers, suspended visa processing for Cubans looking for to enter the U.S. and released a travel warning recommending Americans not to take a trip to Cuba. In a press release, Rubio knocked his actions as “weak, unacceptable and outrageous,” and took to Twitter to require that Cuban envoys be expelled.

A couple of days later, on Oct. 3, Tillerson lastly did what Rubio demanded. Cuban American U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, likewise a Republican of Florida and an opponent of Obama’s normalization process, pronounced herself “happy as punch” at the expulsions.

Denormalization

This was not what U.S. diplomats wanted. The American Foreign Service Association, the union representing Foreign Service officers, opposed the withdrawal from Havana as contrary to U.S. interests.

The expulsion of its diplomats isn’t the only penalty Washington has inflicted on Cuba. Some half a million Cubans depend upon tourism for their income, and it contributes about 10 percent to Cuba’s gdp. The travel warning will prevent U.S. visitors from going to the island, injuring the economy at a time when it is already struggling with the damage done by Cyclone Irma

The sweeping and categorical nature of the travel warning is likewise baseless, considering that the State Department thinks U.S. diplomats were the targets of “ specific attacks” and no U.S. visitors have suffered any injury.

Is Trump using 'health attacks' on US diplomats in Havana as an excuse to punish Cuba?
Tillerson’s travel advisory will hurt Cuba’s blossoming tourism market.
Reuters/Alexandre Meneghini

Canada, by contrast, provided no travel advisory after its workers were injured, nor did its federal government withdraw Canadian diplomats from Havana or expel their Cuban equivalents from Ottawa.

Lastly, by momentarily suspending visa processing for Cubans seeking to go into the United States, Washington risks violating the 1994 migration accord, which devotes the United States to accept a minimum of 20,000 Cuban immigrants yearly. That commitment will be practically impossible to satisfy now.

Naturally, as the United States has ratcheted up these punishments, the tone of Cuba’s reaction has actually become defiant. In Granma, Cuba’s Communist Celebration newspaper, the Foreign Ministry on Oct. 3 condemned the expulsion of its diplomats as “unproven and inappropriate,” and turned down “unconditionally” any Cuban duty for the incidents.

Keeping in mind the lack of proof as to perpetrator or indicates, Cuba for the very first time questioned whether any attacks had actually even occurred.

Is Trump using 'health attacks' on US diplomats in Havana as an excuse to punish Cuba?
U.S.-Cuba relations are refreezing.
ACN/Marcelino Vazquez/Handout

The Trump administration has let a legitimate issue over the safety of U.S. diplomats end up being an excuse for reversing key elements of Obama’s policy of engagement, caving in to the political demands of those who, like Rubio and Ros-Lehtinen, opposed normalizing relations with Cuba from the beginning.

By so doing, I believe the administration has actually fallen under a trap. Whoever is responsible for the attacks on U.S. diplomats in Havana probably did it to disrupt the rapprochement in between the United States and Cuba. The U.S. response is handing that shadowy adversary a success.

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