HAVANA TIMES – The Trump Administration is studying whether a virus could be the source of the health problems suffered by 24 of its diplomats in Cuba, said a senior official of the State Department in the US Senate. Previous accusations have centered around “acoustic attacks”.
Under the presidency of Republican Senator Marco Rubio, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing Tuesday morning on the alleged attacks, whose origin is unknown and which, according to the US government, took place between the end of 2016 and August 2017.
Todd Brown, Deputy Director of Diplomatic Security, said during the hearing that, apart from the possibility of acoustic attacks, other possibilities are being considered, and he cited among them a “viral” attack, that is, someone deliberately infecting the US diplomats with a virus.
“The hearing symptoms could be part of another attack,” Brown said. “There are a variety of things that technical experts are looking at.”
It is the first time that the US Administration admits not being sure that the symptoms of its diplomats are due to an acoustic attack.
Also present at the hearing were the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Francisco Palmieri, and the medical director of the State Department, Charles Rosenfarb.
When asked by Rubio, one of the greatest critics of the thaw in relations with Cuba that was implemented by Democratic President Barack Obama, Brown said he cannot guarantee that US diplomats can be safe in Cuba since it is not known what caused the symptoms.
Palmieri insisted that it is difficult to believe that the attacks occurred without the knowledge of the government of Raul Castro and recalled that both President Trump and Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, have assured that the Cuban government “has responsibility in them.”
The hearing, which lasted about an hour and a quarter, was held a few days after an FBI report was leaked to US media which said no evidence of an acoustic attack has been found.
The United States says that since November 2016, 24 diplomats who worked in Cuba and relatives have suffered alterations in their health due to attacks of unknown origin that have caused symptoms such as hearing loss, dizziness, buzzing, headaches, fatigue, cognitive problems and sleep difficulties.
At the end of September Trump ordered the removal of more than half of the US embassy staff in Havana and shortly after he expelled 15 Cuban diplomats from Washington. Later the US closed down virtually all of its consular services in Havana forcing visa seekers to go to Colombia or Mexico.
The issue over the supposed attacks has fueled the tension in bilateral relations that Obama and Raul Castro resumed in 2015 after more than 50 years of rupture. They already suffered when Trump announced changes in US policy toward Cuba in June, which included a hardening of the embargo and greater limitations of the trips of US citizens to the island.
Cuba has not questioned the health problems that the US diplomats have suffered, but assures they were not the result of any attack. In early November, foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez accused Washington of lying to damage relations between the two countries.
After the top Cuban leaders, starting with Fidel Castro, sharply criticized Obama’s overtures to the people of Cuba during his visit in March 2017, they now find themselves dealing with a US president who brings a more familiar adversarial roll to US-Cuba relations.