What started as a medical mystery in Cuba is fast developing into a diplomatic scandal that may damage improved relations between the USA and Cuba.
President Donald Trump who did not hide his hostility to the historic move by President Obama in 2014 to ease diplomatic tension between the two cold war adversaries is jumping at the opportunity to make real his campaign rhetoric against Cuba.
He had called Fidel Castro “a brutal dictator” during his campaigns for the 2016 elections and promised that “all of the concessions that Barak Obama has granted the Castro regime were done through executive order, which means the next president can reverse them, and that I will do unless the Castro regime meets our demands.”
It is therefore no surprise that even when the cause of the illness that has affected 21 diplomats in the American Embassy in Havana – who are afflicted with hearing loss and cognitive difficulties – is yet to be established, the US under President Trump is using it as a reason to reverse the gains in the relations between the two countries.
With no evidence that the Americans were deliberately attacked the Trump administration spontaneously expelled two Cuban diplomats over the illness and the State Department issued an advisory that Americans should not travel to Cuba. In a statement, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson repeated the American assertion which has not been substantiated that the embassy personnel were deliberately targeted. But he did not blame Cuba, and even his officials held out the possibility that a third party might have been responsible.
“Cuba has told us it will continue to investigate these attacks, and we will continue to cooperate with them in this effort,” Mr. Tillerson said. Even with such reassuring words from Tillerson, the actions of the US government since the outbreak of the mysterious disease has been decidedly hostile.
Because some of the attacks occurred in hotels where US State Department employees were temporarily staying, officials said they worried that tourists and others could be affected.
Even with assurances from the Cuban government that they could and were willing to protect American diplomats, the State Department announced that it was withdrawing all nonessential personnel from the embassy.
The Trump administration, which has already expelled two Cuban diplomats over the strange illnesses, is considering further retaliatory steps. All these rash steps were taken regardless of the reaction of the Cuban President Raul Castro’s surprisingly open and cooperative attitude in his response to the crisis. He went as far as inviting the FBI to Havana to investigate the attack so as to substantiate his claim that Cuba had nothing to do with what was suspected to be an attack on U.S. diplomats.
The Cuban government expanded the frontiers of cooperation with their response of dismay even as they promised to continue to cooperate in the investigation, calling the US decisions on the matter a “hasty” one that “will affect the bilateral relations.”
Given the positive reaction of President Rauf Castro and that of his government, it is abundantly clear that the steps taken by the US government are in line with Donald Trump’s prejudiced and predetermined views on what the US policy towards Cuba should be. In fact they represent a dangerous trend in Trump’s disposition to foreign policy issues as they affect other flash points in global affairs be they in Iran, North Korea, Europe and Africa.
Trump has threatened to repudiate the multilateral agreement brokered by Obama with Iran on nuclear weapons; he has gloated over Brexit and even with his closest buddy Putin of Russia, he does not seem to be on the same page on issues in Syria and Cuba. In North Korea, the twitter happy President has met his equal in a leader who is happy launching rockets and hauling insults. Maybe because of his hatred for Obama and contempt for the black race, he advocated during his campaigns for presidency that African countries should be recolonised. Today, the continent of Africa ranks lowest in his foreign policy calculations.
Given his bellicose stand on all issues in these troubled parts of the world, it would appear he came into office “in search of enemies” as excellently argued by John Stockwell the CIA chief of station in South Africa in his book by that title during the cold war years of the 70’s. America couldn’t have given the world a more dangerous President in the post cold war era than Donald Trump.
That the Cubans offered to let the F.B.I. go to Havana and investigate should have convinced Trump that they have nothing to hide. This was a rare level of openness from a government that normally conducts its affairs in secrecy and ought to have been seen by Americans that the Cubans themselves have been shaken by the episode. But not so for Donald Trump who is always in search for reasons to create enmity and tension in the world. Evidently the Cubans were rattled by what had happened and were desperate to find the cause. The fact that a Canadian diplomat was also affected has deepened the mystery. Relations between Canada and Cuba have long been warm.
Significantly also the F.B.I. agents who were allowed entry to Cuba have visited the homes of the American diplomats and have not been able to detect anything. The F.B.I. has also reviewed security footage of the homes and found nothing suspicious, and the agency has been unable to duplicate the effects the diplomats have experienced in a lab.
The final outcome of the investigation is eagerly awaited in international circles and will have far-reaching diplomatic consequences for Cuba. If the island nation was involved, Cuba’s rapprochement with America will be short-lived.
Sadly, even if Cuba is not implicated, Donald Trump may at the end of the day just go ahead and scuttle the bold initiative by Barak Obama to correct decades of misdirected US policy to Cuba which almost brought a nuclear holocaust in the region in 1962. With tensions between the US and North Korea on the rise every day, nothing could be more dangerous for the US if Donald Trump revives the enmity with her close neighbor at this time in world history.