Guest Editorial: Cuba must find a way to halt sonic attackers
Whatever and whoever is behind the so-called sonic attacks targeting Americans in Havana, one party — the government of Cuba — is responsible for getting to the bottom of it. The growing scandal threatens Cuba’s image, and it has all the reason in the world to solve the mystery.
The attacks first were reported in August as having targeted members of America’s diplomatic community. But more recent reporting specifies that U.S. intelligence officers (operating under diplomatic cover) were the first and biggest group affected.
In all, at least 21 Americans have experienced hearing or cognitive problems because of the 50 or so attacks, which began in November, days after the U.S. presidential election of Donald Trump. They occurred at the victims’ homes and hotels where they were staying. Some of the victims are spouses of U.S. government employees; a Canadian diplomat was also among those injured. Some victims have reported hearing cricket-like noises before symptoms appeared while others recall nothing out of the ordinary before hearing loss or other damage manifested itself. In a few cases, the injuries appear to be permanent.
It is tempting to view the attacks as simply another plot twist in U.S.-Cuban relations, which warmed under President Barack Obama and quickly cooled again under President Donald Trump. However, it has the look of something more complicated than post-Cold War spy games pitting one old foe against another. Times have changed. It would be shortsighted of Cuba to attack U.S. personnel in retaliation for Mr. Trump’s hard-line stance.
The Cubans should be smart enough to understand that any mischief would erode relations further — and earn them the enmity of would-be tourists, business people and other Americans who long wanted improved bilateral ties.
Going on the offensive now seems unlikely for Cuba. President Raul Castro’s response also was telling. He denied responsibility for the attacks but seemed sincerely perplexed by them — and invited U.S. officials to send FBI agents to Havana to investigate. That was a big move for the old Cold Warrior.
But Mr. Castro was acting with enlightened self-interest. Cuban authorities have as much reason as Washington does to identify and punish whoever is responsible. “They want more open interaction with the United States,” stressed Kathleen Hower, executive director of Global Links, a Pittsburgh-based organization that has supplied Cuba with surplus medical equipment for more than 20 years.
America already had ordered nonessential diplomatic personnel out of Cuba and warned other Americans to stay away, saying their safety cannot be guaranteed. That will scare off some tourists no doubt, but Ms. Hower said it’s unlikely to affect the growing number of cultural and humanitarian cross-border partnerships. She said she has “no qualms” about going to Cuba or suggesting others do so, noting no ordinary Americans have been hurt. She still considers Cuba “the safest country I’ve ever traveled to.”
An independent party’s involvement in the attacks — a rogue nation such as North Korea comes to mind — seems possible. FBI agents may do what they can to help, but Cuban authorities are better positioned than anyone else to investigate crimes on their sovereign territory. Cold War veterans like Mr. Castro ought to know who is capable of such deeds and why. Dealing quickly and efficiently with the problem will do much to improve bilateral relations in the way Cuba desires.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Oct. 2