As facts continue to surface about the mysterious “acoustic attacks” marring already fragile US-Cuba relations since late 2016, it is clear that the situation is not getting any less confusing.
Initially, the victims were reported to be at least 10 US diplomats and their family members, who suffered symptoms ranging from mild concussions to possibly permanent hearing loss. Now, at least five Canadian diplomats and their families living in Cuba are reported to have experienced the same symptoms.
“In some of the attacks a sophisticated sonic weapon that operated outside the range of audible sound,” CNN reported. “Other attacks made a deafeningly loud sound similar to the buzzing created by insects or metal scraping across a floor, but the source of the sound could not be identified, the two US officials said.”
Paired with new information that some of the attacks occurred at night while the diplomats were asleep, the combination of audible and inaudible attacks makes the possibility of permanent hearing loss all the more real and frightening.
The fact that Canadian diplomats are also being affected by the sinister attacks is particularly puzzling. After all, Canada maintained strong relations with Cuba even after the 1959 revolution, and has deep commercial ties with the Caribbean island to this day. Some sources have suggested that the attacks, even if not perpetrated by the Cuban government, might have been performed by third-parties to which the Cuban government turned a blind eye. But given the long and fruitful relationship between Canada and Cuba, it seems implausible that the Cuban government would knowingly allow the attacks to happen on its soil.
For now, the ball is in Cuba’s court. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stated that, “We hold the Cuban authorities responsible for finding out who is carrying out thees health attacks but, as you’ve seen now, there are other cases with other diplomats involved.”
Other US officials have stated that Cuba has even greater national interest than the US in finding out who is behind the incidents. As investigators continue to unearth more details, they look for a possible connection between the attacks and countries with an adversarial relationship to the US – Russia, China, North Korea, Venezuela, and Iran all possibilities.
Cuba has repeatedly denied any involvement or knowledge of the attacks, which would run counter to a Castro speech back in July where he said that he hoped to continue improving US-Cuban relations despite Trump’s tougher stance. William LeoGrande, professor and frequent adviser to the US government on Latin American policy, says that if the Cuban government is involved, it’s likely not an intentional effort to derail US-Cuban relations. “It’s more likely that people in the Cuban security forces might have done a favor for friendly intelligence services without having cleared it all the way up the chain of command.”
Whatever the case, the mysterious attacks do not bode well for the Cuban government regarding any of its foreign relationships. Diplomacy is a game where appearance is important, and it doesn’t look good when foreign diplomats are attacked on a country’s soil.