Saturday, October 14, 2017

Personal thoughts about the state of US-Cuba Relations

AP has published a story with the copy of the sound that is alleged to have been targeted against US diplomats.  An earlier story indicated that they were US intelligence operatives using the customary diplomatic cover.

How can the sound have been recorded and the US not know what is generating it?  One would think if there is time to make a recording, that embassy and/or Cuban security could locate a source.  Is there a piece of consumer or professional equipment common to all the affected personnel that could be the accidental or intended vector of the sound?  Does the identity of the targets confirm intentional hostile action, or does it raise questions about the reliability of the accusers, the CIA having a rather checkered past in Cuba, including attempted assassination of Fidel Castro?

The Guardian cites experts disputing the thesis of a sonic attack on scientific grounds.  Similar doubts have been raised in the New York TimesCNN explored the possible use of infra or ultrasound and the advanced capabilities of Russia.

North Korea has a history of total disrespect for normal diplomatic protocol in Cuba.  Given President Trump's military threats and impetuousness, would such aggression provide a causus belli with Pyongyang?  That could be a reason to not want to dwell on such a possibility.

At the moment, I am agnostic about the nature of the problem and the cause.

The Miami ultras have an undeniable motive and are exploiting successfully the murky situation.  Their past practice of blowing up civilian targets in Cuba and creating the life endangering provocation of Brothers to the Rescue flights suggests they would not worry much about the human cost if it would derail normalization.

Is it reasonable to assume they had a mole in the embassy who could identify residences and hotel rooms?

I wonder whether the extreme reaction by the State Department was to forestall the even more extreme action that Rubio and four other Senators had demanded the previous week, the closing of  embassies?  Did the State Department realize that a big draw down of personnel would routinely require a travel warning?  Were they counting on push back from airlines, cruises, hotel companies, universities, AirBnB and tour organizers?

The termination of both immigrant and visitor visas will come back to haunt Rubio when grandma or grandson can't come for Christmas, or spouses are finally able to reunite.  If State is playing chess, could that be the intention of barring visas?

This history provided by a friend in Havana offers an interesting parallel:
Back in April 1997 a bomb went off in the Havana Melia Cohiba hotel, an unheard of event in the tightly controlled Communist-run country. They kept going off in hotels and restaurants into September when a Salvadoran tourist was arrested.

A few more went off or were discovered and the last was found in the Trash outside Havana's airport at the end of October. In all, five Central Americans were in custody. All testified they were paid a few thousand dollars per bomb and trained by a ring of Cuban exiles.
It had taken the famous and fully mobilized Cuban security services six months to crack the case which involved a group of amateurs.

As the bombing run went on and on speculation turned to rogue elements within the Cuban state. There was no other explanation for why the bombings continued in such a controlled environment. The Christian Science Monitor wrote…
"The failure to present any evidence in the blasts leads many Cubans to believe that the government doesn't actually have a clue as to whom is setting the bombs. But speculation runs in two directions: that it is either Cubans working with an extremist exile group opposed to President Fidel Castro; or that it is Communists, perhaps within the military, who are responsible.

That anti-Castro exile groups would act against the island's tourist industry follows a certain logic…

But some Cubans say there is also reason to believe that hard-line communists opposed to the island's economic opening are responsible - especially with the Communist Party's congress, the first since 1991, set for October…

Supporters of this theory say elements of the military might be involved because they would have access to materials needed to construct explosives, and because they might number among those most alarmed by the country's moral drift.?
There are both similarities and differences with the just as strange 'acoustic attacks' that have bedeviled the island this year and apparently injured a number of U.S. diplomats and family members.

However, the U.S. rationale being used to roll back detente, that even if the Cuban government is not directly to blame it MUST know what is going on, is refuted by the above events when arguably the security services were less degraded than they are today, faced, one assumes, by less sophisticated players and had real time access to crime scenes.
My largest concern is on the consequences for exchanges, intended or not.

One of the best institutional responses has come from a university exchange program in Mexico, raising for the first time the damage to the credibility of State Department Travel Warnings by politicization.

However that is not a US university.  I have heard that a Travel Warning affects insurance coverage and therefore the ability of US universities and corporations to send people to Cuba.

If the Travel Warning was simply triggered by a routine bureaucratic mandate, and is not intended for political pressure or worse, the State Department should find a way of removing it. 

From the Foreign Affairs Manual:
"When a post goes to authorized departure or ordered departure, a travel warning is issued by the Bureau of Consular Affairs.  The warning routinely urges private U.S. citizens to consider leaving or avoiding travel to countries where authorized or ordered departure is in effect. "
This is the "or worse" from one of the smartest observers in Washington:
The administration is doing worse than reversing normalization.  The policies are based on the (incorrect) judgment that Raúl’s transition is vulnerable, and now’s the time to strike by shutting down the migration accords, stopping people-to-people, and expelling the Cuban Embassy’s commercial team.
A less apocalyptic interpretation is that an increasingly beleaguered and isolated President is trying to shore up hard core support against legal and constitutional threats to his tenure.

The crisis with Cuba is not as life threatening as President Trump's words and actions on Charlottesville, Puerto Rico, North Korea, Iran and affordable health care, but it is enmeshed in the same irrational inability to understand our national interest.

    --John McAuliff, 10/14/17

Additional resources

"Reckless hostility toward Cuba damages America's interests"
     by Harold Trinkunas and Richard Feinberg

"U.S.-Cuba: New Challenge to Normalization"
    by Fulton Armstrong

"Mass hysteria may explain 'sonic attacks' in Cuba, say top neurologists"
    by Julian Borger and Philip Jaekl

Associated Press stories

Petition to rescind the travel warning and restore visas

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