At the November 2 press conference at the National Press Club, the theme of the alleged acoustic attacks against U.S. diplomatic staff in Havana dominated Rodríguez’s prepared statement and the questions from the press. The affair has had a negative effect on the relations between Cuba and the United States during the last six weeks. The United States has accused Cuba of possibly being the author of the attacks, or at least of not taking adequate measures to protect U.S. diplomatic staff. The United States has reduced significantly its diplomatic staff in Cuba; it has ordered the departure from Washington of seventeen members of the Cuban embassy staff in Washington; and it has advised U.S. travelers that travel to Cuba has potential health risks. At the beginning of the affair, Cuba denied any knowledge of the health incidents involving U.S. embassy staff, and it formed a committee of Cuban specialists and scientists to investigate the affair. The committee has concluded that the accusations of acoustic attacks are nonsensible in technical terms, and that the affair is politically motivated, taking into account the unwillingness of the United States to provide specific information and in other ways to cooperate in the investigation (see “Cuba denies acoustic attacks” 10/12/2017; “Cuba denies acoustic attacks (P.S.)” 10/20/2017).
In his prepared comments, Rodríguez observed that there has been a significant backward movement in the relations between the governments of the United States and Cuba. The first manifestation was the directive issued by President Donald Trump on June 16, when he announced a hardening of the economic, commercial, and financial blockade against Cuba. Since that date, a number of steps have been taken that have negative consequences for bilateral relations; the USA has reduced substantially its embassy staff in Havana; it has expelled seventeen Cuban diplomats from Washington, without justification, with the pretext of alleged incidents with its diplomats in Havana; and it has emitted a warning to travelers in order to dissuade them from visiting Cuba. In addition, a technical meeting on agriculture has been suspended; plans of cooperation in health has been postponed; cultural, sports, and student events have been cancelled, as have trips by dozens of groups of U.S. visitors. “These steps have been accompanied by repeated disrespectful and offensive statements with respect to Cuba by the U.S. President, retaking the hostile rhetoric of the moments of greatest confrontation.”
Concerning the alleged acoustic attacks, the Cuban Minister of Foreign Relations declared:
President Trump and high functionaries of his government have asserted that its diplomats in Havana have been the object of attacks, holding the Cuban government directly responsible, yet they have not been able to present the most minimal evidence to this respect. The measures adopted against Cuba are unjustified and politically motivated, and they are not based on evidence or on the results of investigations. The Cuban government does not have any responsibility in the incidents that are alleged to have affected U.S. diplomats.
Following the prepared statement by the Cuban Minister, Serena Marshall of ABC News asked, “Are you accusing the United States of inventing these attacks for political purposes?” Rodríguez responded, “I am saying that no attack has occurred, that no deliberate act has occurred, that no specific incident has occurred. If the government of the United States has a contrary opinion, I invite it to present evidence. . . . The possibility that someone has committed deliberate acts against North American personnel accredited in Havana or their families can be excluded absolutely.”
In response to a similar question by Lucía Leal (EFE), the Cuban Minister of Foreign Relations declared:
I can categorically affirm that anyone asserting that there have been attacks, deliberate acts, or specific instances as cause of these health symptoms is deliberately lying. I have said, and I reiterate, that these health problems are being used as a pretext of a political nature, with political objectives, in order to eliminate the progress that has been attained and to damage bilateral relations.
In spite of the fact that many believe that the blockade has failed and/or that it is not morally justifiable, the return to the blockade strategy by Trump has a certain political logic. A hard line strategy against Cuba is consistent with the hard line against Venezuela, North Korea, and Iran; and with an attitude of disdain toward international organizations and the opinions of other governments of the world, especially those of the Third World. In taking a consistent hard line against Cuba and other “rogue” nations and against international opinion, Trump seeks to forge an alliance of the extreme Right of the Republic Party, the military-industrial complex, and right-wing populism. The “make American strong again” approach has a degree of credibility among a sector of the U.S. public, which also may accept as true the sonic attack allegations against Cuba, as a consequence of the distorted image of Cuba as an authoritarian society that stands opposed to the United States.
The unsubstantiated allegations of acoustic attacks are nonsensical from a technical point of view. In addition, they make no sense from a political point of view, in that Cuba has an interest in the normalization of relations, and it has no reason to engage in such attacks or to tolerate attacks by third parties. They also stand against Cuba’s long-standing pattern of protecting the security of diplomatic personnel, in according with international norms. Therefore, the allegations verge on the absurd, appearing to Cubans to be science fiction, in spite of their possessing a certain logic in a U.S. political context.
Some media of communication in the United States have reported on the alleged sonic attacks as fact, and Senator Marco Rubio has demanded reprisals against Cuba. As a result, the affair reminds some Cuban journalists of the reaction of the United States to the explosion of the U.S.S. Maine in Havana bay in 1898, which killed 266 sailors and officers. Subsequent investigations of the Maine explosion concluded that it was internal, either accidental or an act of sabotage by an unknown person or group. The U.S. government, however, claimed that the explosion was provoked from the exterior of the ship, and it was either an act of Spanish aggression or an act of Cuban sabotage intended to provoke U.S. intervention. The explosion caused an escalation of the bellicose rhetoric in the press, and it was a pretext for initiating military action against Spain, which was a decisive step toward the establishment of a neocolonial republic in Cuba under U.S. domination. Cuban journalists see a similarity between these events of 1898 and today: they both involve an escalation of hostile rhetoric and a justification of aggressive action on the basis of an event of uncertain origin, with the intention of establishing U.S. domination, or at least the appearance of U.S. reassertion of power. Accordingly, Cuban journalists call the affair the “sonic Maine.”