Cuba hopes that, in the end, science will absolve it in the mysterious acoustic attacks that have damaged the health of diplomats at the U.S. Embassy in Havana.
In its latest effort to deflect accusations that it is somehow behind the incidents that harmed the health of 24 American diplomats and a handful of Canadian diplomats in Havana, the Cuban government reached out to the scientific community Wednesday, hosting a two-day online forum “to share information and opinions” on a new website called “The Acoustic Attacks and Science.” The government also has launched a Twitter account @supuestoataque.
Havana billed the forum, which is being hosted by a 10-person multidisciplinary committee investigating the attacks, as an effort to exchange ideas about whether the diplomats’ symptoms could have been caused by “sonic agents” or an acoustic weapon, what other illnesses may have caused such symptoms and whether there’s the possibility the illnesses might be of psychosomatic origin.
The medical mystery has damaged U.S.-Cuba relations, and politics quickly crept into some of the comments. Dr. José Luis Aparicio Suárez, part of the Cuban medical brigade in Angola, said the symptoms were fabricated and included “political nausea, ethical dizziness... and cognitive problems in respect to truth and honor.”
The diplomats’ symptoms, reported to have first occurred in November 2016 and as recently as August, include hearing loss, tinnitus, disequilibrium, headaches, facial and abdominal pain, memory and sleep disorders, concussions and nausea, according to the U.S. government. But the United States has not specified who or what methodology harmed the diplomats both at their homes in Havana and at a few hotels, or even if a weapon exists that could cause the reported symptoms.
In answer to a forum question about whether Cuba knew of any type of weapon that uses sound or electromagnetic waves that would be capable of causing the symptoms, Dr. Manuel J. Villar Kusevic, an ear, nose and throat specialist and coordinator of the Cuban investigating team, responded:
“It’s certain that sonic weapons exist. The United States and Israel have used them to break up protests in their countries. They’re sold commercially on the internet on different websites, but in Cuba there aren’t any, not imported or made here. This isn’t the Cold War of the 1960s; MIT in the U.S. has worked recently with this technology.”
Cuba has flatly denied that it is behind the attacks, but the United States withdrew 60 percent of its Havana embassy personnel and ordered the expulsion of 15 diplomats from the Cuban Embassy in Washington because it said the Cubans had failed in their responsibility to protect the diplomats while they were on Cuban soil.
The commentators on the online forum were mostly Cuban doctors, including many assigned to Cuba medical missions in Bolivia, Jamaica, Ecuador, Qatar, Angola, Algeria, Haiti and other countries.
Many posed more questions, asking why Cuban employees or neighbors of the diplomats didn’t seem to be affected by the incidents, whether an infectious disease or toxin could be the underlying cause and if any of the diplomats exhibited symptoms prior to their postings in Havana.
Some commentators said in order to damage hearing, sound waves would have to be of very high intensity and very near a target, leading to questions about whether devices could have been installed inside rooms frequented by diplomats.
Various theories have emerged about who and what could be behind the attacks.
They include a specific attack provoked by Cuba using an unnamed acoustic or sonic device, surveillance technology that may have malfunctioned, or attacks carried out by a rogue faction of the Cuban government unhappy about the rapprochement between the United States and Cuba under the Obama administration or by a third party hostile to the United States such as Russia, North Korea or Iran.
Some U.S. officials think Cuba knows more about the incidents than it is letting on. “To anyone who knows anything about the Cuban government and the past of the Cuban government, it’s hard to imagine that certain things wouldn’t be known that were taking place on that island,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert has said.
The online forum is the latest salvo in a Cuban offensive to dispel the idea that Havana is behind the incidents.
On Nov. 2, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez spoke at the National Press Club in Washington in what he said was an attempt “to clarify the incidents” and ask why the United States had decided to politicize them instead of engaging in “effective cooperation” to get at the truth.
“I am saying that no attack has occurred, that no deliberate act has occurred, that no one specific incident has occurred,” Rodriguez said.
He complained that most of the incidents were reported weeks and months after they allegedly occurred, that Cuban investigators had not been given access to the affected diplomats or most of the affected locations, and that the medical data supplied to the Cubans did not contain detailed information about symptoms or the sequence of their appearance.
On the new website, Cuba has collected commentary from scientists and acoustic specialists from around the world as well as statements and videos from its own scientific community.
State media outlets also have produced news specials about the incidents, including one in which officials said audio samples of the alleged incidents provided by American authorities did not surpass 80 decibels and were similar to frequencies produced by crickets.
A journalist from Granma, the newspaper of Cuba’s Communist Party, posted a string of questions on the forum, including queries about what Cuban investigators know about the audio samples and their origin.
“U.S. authorities leaked the recording of the sound that supposedly affected its functionaries,” responded Kusevic, coordinator of the Cuban investigating team. “We have had access to all the samples and we have insisted that our authorities publish them. I can tell you that these samples contain environmental noises and the sound of a known Cuban cricket. Nothing more. The greatest intensity obtained from these samples was 74.6 decibels, which wouldn’t damage health.”
Follow Mimi Whitefield on Twitter, @HeraldMimi