In September 2017, United States diplomatic personnel in Cuba reported a variety of symptoms like memory and hearing loss. The Trump administration hastily framed the injuries suffered as the result of sonic attacks. The U.S State Department then responded by withdrawing all nonessential diplomatic personnel from Havana, expelling 60% of Cuban diplomatic staff from the Cuban Embassy in Washington, and warning U.S citizens not to travel to the island.
No evidence has emerged corroborating the sonic attack allegation. A recent FBI investigation that received full Cuban cooperation has found no evidence that attacks — sonic or otherwise — were waged on U.S. embassy staff. While the investigation is not yet publicly released, Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake confirmed the finding.
Intelligence agents, doctors, and psychoacoustics experts who consulted on the case also find it unlikely that the wide variety of symptoms reported were caused by any known sonic device. “No one has a device that could do this. Because no such device exists,” says Fulton Armstrong, a retired CIA officer who worked on Cuba policy in the Clinton White House.
The State Department has somewhat softened its travel warning on Cuba amidst a broad re-categorization of travel advisories. Instead of warning citizens not to travel to the island, it now suggests that they reconsider travel. Michelle Bernier-Toth, head of Overseas Citizens Services, told reporters that the softer categorization was selected because it has not been determined what caused the injuries.
Apart from the technical implausibility of sonic attacks, Cuba has nothing to gain by sabotaging progress made in bilateral relations since December 2014 when Raul Castro and President Obama restored diplomatic ties. Cooperation in areas of mutual interest ranges from regional security to public health.
Instead of protecting American citizens from a legitimate threat, slashing Cuban embassy personnel and impeding travel sabotages the normalization process. It hurts the many Cubans dependent on tourism and keeps families apart who are already divided by the Florida Straits.
The reality is that Cuba remains one of the safer destinations for travelers in Latin America in terms of safety and health.
We are more accurately advised by travel assessment made by other countries. Canada suggests taking normal safety precautions when traveling to Cuba, and the UK has assessed that “crime levels are low and mainly in the form of opportunistic theft,” noting “most visits to Cuba are trouble free.” Indeed, of the thousands of travelers who have gone to Cuba with Global Exchange, not one has reported symptoms affecting their health akin to those experienced by U.S embassy staff.
Travel warnings are reviewed by the State Department every six months. Call the State Department now at 202-647-4000 to insist they remove the unfounded Level 3 travel warning on Cuba. Here’s what to say:
The Level 3 travel warning on Cuba is not substantiated but, instead, undermines a normalization process that is in the mutual interest of Cubans and Americans. An FBI investigation with full Cuban cooperation has found no proof of attacks – sonic or otherwise – on U.S diplomatic personnel. No agency of the U.S. or Cuban government is aware of a technology that fits the victims’ description of what they experienced — non-government scientists are equally puzzled. And the State Department has provided no evidence that visitors are in danger. A reduction in tourism will have a negative impact on local Cuban businesses – including many thousands in Cuba’s nascent private sector. This undermines the U.S foreign policy objective to support Cuba’s domestic reforms. Please appropriately re-categorize Cuba as a Level 1 (exercise normal precautions), as have close allies like Canada.