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Could the U.S.'s 'Havana Syndrome' report thaw relations with Cuba? It's unlikely

The U.S. embassy in Havana, Cuba (left) in 2017.
Desmond Boylan
/
AP
The U.S. embassy in Havana, Cuba (left) in 2017.

U.S. intelligence said the mysterious illnesses in Havana don't look to be part of an attack. But rhetoric since hints it won't improve U.S.-Cuba relations much.

This week the U.S. intelligence community said it doesn’t think the ailments Americans suffered in Cuba and elsewhere were caused by an actual attack.

But if you think this will improve U.S.-Cuba relations — perhaps think again.

In late 2016, U.S. diplomatic personnel in Havana suffered mysterious illnesses. The so-called “Havana Syndrome” in Cuba and countries like China led many to speculate it was a conspiracy by enemy governments.

This week, however, a U.S. intelligence report found no such evidence of a concerted attack.

Many hope that tacit absolving of Cuba's communist regime might help thaw U.S.-Cuba relations, which have effectively been frozen the past six years by the Havana Syndrome probe.

But on Thursday, Republican Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American, spoke for many who oppose engagement with Cuba’s communist regime.

“Something happened here,” Rubio tweeted, “& just because we don’t have all the answers doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.”

Then Thursday night, Cuba insisted the U.S. had spent the past six years falsely accusing it of an assault on American diplomats.

"The U.S. government used [the Havana Syndrome investigation] to derail bilateral relations," Vice Foreign Minister Carlos Fernández de Cossio told Reuters, “and discredit Cuba."

One former high-ranking U.S. official who still follows U.S.-Cuba relations closely told WLRN that despite the U.S. intelligence suggestion that Americans were not intentionally targeted by Cuban officials — with microwaves or other sonic "weapons" long mentioned as possible culprits — it will likely take much longer than pro-engagement advocates wish for either side to extend a conciliatory hand.

Much of that, he said, has to do with the fact that Cuba's dictatorship has hardened in the intervening years while Miami's conservative Cuban exiles have, too.

"The U.S. will say that even if Cuba didn't attack its diplomats, it still doesn't deserve rapprochement given the hundreds of political prisoners it's put behind bars the past couple years," said the former official.

"And the Cubans will just insist that being treated this way by the U.S. only justifies its crackdown against protesters and dissidents. It's not like either side is going to say we should just put this all behind us any time soon."

Copyright 2023 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida.