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Warnings Issued on Travel to Cuba

Warnings Issued on Travel to Cuba

The United States Embassy in Havana in October.  CreditYamil Lage/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

On January 9, U.S. Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson opened a formal inquiry into mysterious “sonic attacks” purportedly damaging the health of U.S. diplomatic personnel stationed at the American Embassy in Cuba.  The first reports surfaced in December 2016, and since then 24 United States personnel have complained of sharp ear pain, dull headaches, tinnitus, vertigo, disorientation, nausea and extreme fatigue.  Another 19 Americans who traveled to Cuba have reported similar symptoms to the U.S. State Department.  Canada has also reported several Canadians have experienced similar symptoms to the U.S. diplomats.

While the Cuban government has denied responsibility for the attacks, an investigation is being conducted by the F.B.I., the State Department and top American medical authorities.  The evidence currently under review by the State Department’s Accountability Review Board is “confounding and conflicting”, according to a New York Times report.   Democratic Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico has called for caution, warning, “I think we should be careful not to jump to conclusions.”

However, after reports of the illnesses of the embassy staff members reached U.S. President Donald Trump, he expelled 15 Cuban diplomats from the United States.  More than half of personnel were pulled from the U.S. embassy back in September.  The diplomatic row reversing the trend toward friendlier relations instituted under former President Barack Obama, which made it easier for nearly 620,000 Americans to travel to Cuba in 2017.  “The idea that someone could put together some sort of action against them, 24 of them, and the Cuban government not know who did it, it’s just impossible,” Mr. Rubio said, while adding: “The Cuban government either did this or knows who did it.”  Francisco Palmieri, acting assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, concurred: “Cuba is a security state, the Cuban government in general has a very tight lid on anything and everything that happens in that country.”  In light of the concerns, the latest U.S. Department of State travel advisory on Cuba, issued on January 10, has advised Americans urges to “reconsider travel to Cuba due to health attacks directed at U.S. Embassy Havana employees.”

Clearly, there are trade-offs when considering travel to Cuba.  Should we potentially risk our health to bring our tourist dollars, euros and pounds to Cuba, helping a people struggling with day-to-day shortages of goods and still recovering from the damage wrought by Hurricane Irma in September?  Or in so doing, will we just be adding to government coffers used to prop up another country which continues to repress dissent and punish public criticism and may be behind the mysterious health attacks?



Gary Sands

Gary Sands is a Senior Analyst at Wikistrat, a crowdsourced consultancy, and a Director at Highway West Capital Advisors, a venture capital, project finance and political risk advisory. He has contributed a number of op-eds for Forbes, U.S. News and World Report, Newsweek, Washington Times, The Diplomat, The National Interest, International Policy Digest, Asia Times, EurasiaNet, Eurasia Review, Indo-Pacific Review, the South China Morning Post, and the Global Times. He was previously employed in lending and advisory roles at Shell Capital, ABB Structured Finance, and the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation. He earned his Masters of Business Administration in International Business from the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. and a Bachelor of Science in Finance at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, Connecticut. He spent six years in Shanghai from 2006-2012, four years in Rio de Janeiro, and is currently based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Twitter@ForeignDevil666