Cuba

Cuba reacts to Rubio hearing on Havana diplomats’ health problems

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., center, confers with Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., left, as Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., far right, speaks as the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere examines attacks on American diplomats in Havana.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., center, confers with Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., left, as Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., far right, speaks as the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere examines attacks on American diplomats in Havana. AP

Cuba reacted harshly Tuesday to the Senate subcommittee hearing convened by Sen. Marco Rubio, saying its intent wasn’t to gather facts but rather to politicize the mysterious episodes that damaged the health of 24 American diplomats who had been stationed in Havana.

“From its very title ‘Attacks on U.S. diplomats in Cuba,’ it was evident that the true purpose of this hearing, to which three high-ranking officials of the State Department were called, was not to establish the truth, but to impose by force and without any evidence an accusation that they have not been able to prove,” said Josefina Vidal, who heads the Cuban Foreign Ministry’s U.S. division.

“We reject the politicization of this matter and the unjustified measures that the government of the United States has adopted with a high cost for our population, Cuba emigration and the American people,” said Vidal.

The United States pulled most of its diplomats out of Havana and expelled 17 Cuban diplomats from Washington in response to the health problems, complicating the issuance of visas to visit both countries.

Cuba-Josefina
Josefina Vidal, director general of the U.S. Division of Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, attends a negoating session with the United States in this file photo. Jacquelyn Martin AP

Although the United States hasn’t specifically blamed Cuba for damaging the health of the diplomats, who have exhibited a variety of symptoms from hearing loss, ringing in the ears, cognitive confusion and mild concussions, both Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Francisco Palmieri, acting assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, have called the incidents attacks.

Cuba rejects that characterization. Vidal, who was Cuba’s chief negotiator during the Obama administration’s rapprochement with Cuba, said the “irresponsible statements” by Palmieri were “unacceptable.”

State Department officials testified that the health symptoms seemed to coincide with unusual sounds and vibrations that some diplomats experienced at their residences in Havana and at two Havana hotels, and they hold Cuba responsible for not ensuring the safety of American diplomats while they were in Havana.

Vidal singled out both Rubio, a Florida Republican, and Sen. Bob Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey. “No one is surprised by the unfounded accusations or the fabrications of the anti-Cuban senators, whose only political agenda over the years has been to bring our two countries into a confrontation, without caring about the consequences,” Vidal said.

Palmieri and two other State Department officials said that the case is still under investigation and it still hasn’t been determined who or what caused the diplomats’ health problems.

But Rubio said the Cuban government, which maintains a vast surveillance network, knows. “People were hurt and the Cuban government knows who did it. They just won’t say — for some reason.”

Vidal’s response: “The State Department does not have any evidence that allows it to affirm that there have been attacks against its diplomats in Havana, nor that Cuba may be responsible or have knowledge of the actions of third parties.”

Follow Mimi Whitefield on Twitter: @HeraldMimi

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