Cuba accuses the U.S. of lying about sonic attacks

The Cuban Foreign Minister stepped up the attack against the United States Thursday, accusing the Trump administration of lying about the mysterious attacks that have affected 25 U.S. personnel in Havana.

Bruno Rodriguez charged the United States with failing to produce a shred of evidence that the incidents were really attacks and blamed the government of using the health of diplomats as a pretext to undermine bilateral relations.

“Anyone who asserts that there have been deliberate attacks or specific incidents that have caused health damage is deliberately lying,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez’s comments, made during a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. late Thursday afternoon, are just the latest chapter in an escalating drama that has pushed the two countries back toward adversarial postures not seen since the Cold War.

Rodriguez is in Washington this week to meet with members of Congress, academic and business leaders and reporters to discuss the attacks and the importance of maintaining positive diplomatic relations.

The U.S. State Department said officials have reminded the Cuban government of its obligation under the Vienna Convention to ensure the safety of U.S. diplomatic personnel.

“We are continuing our investigation into the attacks, and want to continue to cooperate with the Cubans in this regard,” said a State Department spokesperson.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who has Trump’s ear on the matter, said the Castro regime is hurting itself by dismissing the attacks.

“The regime’s reaction to the terrible injuries suffered by American diplomats in Havana has badly damaged its standing among many members of Congress who in the past have supported closer relations. Everyone in Congress knows the attacks were real. And the lies the regime uses to defend itself have badly damaged its standing,” Rubio said.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fl., called the comments political propaganda.

“It is insulting and distasteful, yet just part of their deceitful political propaganda campaign, for Cuban regime officials to try to alter the truth when it comes to the health and well-being of our diplomats that they failed to protect in accordance with the Vienna Conventions,” she said. “However, it is easy to tell when Cuban regime officials are lying because it’s every time their lips are moving. Their comments merit no more consideration.”

President Donald Trump has not helped matters, Rodriguez said, by creating a more hostile environment through repeated “disrespectful and offensive” statements against Cuba. He said decisions to reduce staff at the U.S. embassy in Havana and expel 17 officials from the Cuban embassy in Washington, among other steps, have also had a negative impact on the cooperation between the two countries.

The two countries work closely together on matters of security, drug trafficking, terrorism, money laundering and cybercrimes.

While the Cuban government stands ready to assist, he said, U.S. officials have failed to cooperate fully with the Cuban government. Rodriguez said the the United States has not allowed Cuban experts to meet with those who were affected or visit affected locations.

Information provided to Cuba has been general and lacking in objective data, he said., adding audio samples of the alleged attacks were manipulated and analysis showed they could not cause hearing damage. He said Cuban medical staff has not been allowed to collaborate with U.S. doctors who evaluated the diplomats.

“It is high time for the United States to speak the truth or otherwise present evidence,” Rodriguez said.

While the State Department has not accused Cuba of being behind the incidents, many Latin America experts and Cuban-American officials in government see no way that the government in Havana is not at least complicit. In any event, U.S. officials say Havana is responsible for the safety of foreign diplomats on its soil under the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations.

Without stronger evidence, Rodriguez questions why the U.S. government continues to refer to the incidents as “attacks” and has taken punitive measures against Cuba.

He said if Havana were really unsafe, U.S. authorities would not have requested 212 visas for relatives and friends of diplomats between January and October, which is when the attacks allegedly occurred.

He said the Cuban government is willing to continue having a respectful dialogue with the United States, but expects the same from the Trump administration.

“The U.S. government should stop politicizing this issue, which could lead to an escalation and take bilateral relations further back, which will have harmful consequences for both peoples and countries,” Rodriguez said.

Franco Ordoñez: 202-383-6155, @francoordonez