As a former prosecutor, before I charged someone with a crime I wanted to see the evidence, and before I took a case to trial I wanted a motive. While criminal law and diplomacy are obviously different, taking action based on evidence should be a standard formula.
For almost a year, multiple U.S. government agencies have been trying to determine what caused at least 22 U.S. Embassy personnel in Cuba to suffer hearing loss, dizziness, cognitive difficulties and other illnesses while in their apartments or hotels. The FBI has sent investigators to Cuba three times – something unimaginable before the rapprochement between the United States and Cuba in December 2014. State Department officials have stated that the Cuban government has cooperated. Canadian Embassy personnel were also afflicted, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have been to Cuba.
While the investigation is ongoing, at this point the White House has no idea what or who caused these incidents or why. While some speculate that the Cubans know more than they are saying, there is no evidence linking these attacks to the Cuban government and no definitive acoustical or other technological explanation.
Yet despite the objection of the American Foreign Service Association, the State Department has taken severe punitive measures. Over the past few weeks, they have slashed personnel and cut off all consular services at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, expelled Cuban diplomats and severely limited consular services at the Cuban Embassy in Washington, and issued a Cuba Travel Warning for all Americans.
“There is a clear motivation for our foreign adversaries, like Russia, to drive a wedge between the United States and Cuba.”
These actions are not only counter-productive to solving this mystery, but will inevitably punish the Cuban people, separate Cuban-Americans from their loved ones on the island, hurt U.S. companies interested in doing business in Cuba, and disrupt further progress between our countries on academic and cultural exchanges, negotiations over fugitives and property claims, public health, and maritime security.
We have a duty to protect our diplomats. These diplomats and their families suffering from unexplained illnesses deserve answers. The perpetrators of these serious and inexcusable attacks against American diplomats must be apprehended and held accountable. But expelling Cuban diplomats in Washington won’t bring us any answers. Rather, it creates further distance between our two governments and may make this harder to solve.
Whoever is responsible for these attacks has a clear agenda: to sabotage the nascent rapprochement between the United States and Cuba. We can’t let them succeed.
While we don’t know who is responsible, we do know there is a clear motivation for our foreign adversaries, like Russia, to drive a wedge between the United States and Cuba to help achieve their geopolitical goals. And, as we are seeing increasingly around the world, when we disengage our adversaries rush in.
Unsurprisingly, the Canadians have not withdrawn their diplomats, nor have they issued a travel warning or ordered Cuban diplomats to leave Canada. Without a shred of evidence, nor a motive, linking the Cuban government to these incidents, it appears as though our actions were driven by political expediency, not diplomacy.
If whoever is responsible for this wants to destroy the détente between our country and Cuba, they are succeeding. If, on the other hand, the State Department wants to protect our diplomats and advance U.S. interests, it should do everything possible, including cooperate fully with the Cuban government and regional public health experts, to solve this mystery so our embassies can quickly resume normal operations.