Washington D.C. — On September 29, the U.S. State Department officially confirmed the withdrawal of non-essential personnel and families of diplomats from the U.S. Embassy in Cuba, due to safety concerns over mysterious “sonic attacks” that have struck at least 21 U.S. Foreign Service officers since last year. Due to the reduced number of Embassy staff, the United States will stop processing U.S. visas in Cuba, although Cubans can still apply for visas in other countries.
The State Department also announced the release of a travel advisory for U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba, stating, “We have no reports that private U.S. citizens have been affected, but the attacks are known to have occurred in U.S. diplomatic residences and hotels frequented by U.S. citizens.”
The State Department also said that the U.S. government will “continue to cooperate” with Cuba in investigating the attacks. As previously noted by the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), this cooperation will be essential to getting to the bottom of this mystery and securing the safety of U.S. personnel in Cuba.
“So far, the Trump administration has made a point of not blaming the Cuban government for these attacks,” said WOLA Program Director Geoff Thale. “However, going forward, the United States should remain cautious of taking punitive actions that could communicate otherwise. While halting the processing of U.S. visas in Cuba is due to Embassy staff cuts, this is still going to have a chilling effect.”
As previously stated by WOLA, some of the ongoing economic and political reforms in Cuba have been accelerated thanks to the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba, which is why a return to a more hostile relationship would dramatically affect both Cuban and U.S. government interests.
“There are so many ways that the U.S. government benefits from an open, engaged relationship with Cuba, from trade to agriculture to national security,” said Thale. “The Cuban government itself has a deep interest in maintaining this improved relationship. If a group or country with an interest in disrupting U.S.-Cuba relations is behind these attacks, then we have a better chance of finding out the truth of the matter by continuing to cooperate with Cuba in the investigation.”