The media field day surrounding the State Department’s destructive break with Cuba continues. In addition to taking the State Department’s word about the alleged attacks, CNN is fueling the fire with gossip about strange sounds “the diplomats compared to loud insects or metal dragging across the floor.” Now that conjecture is considered an acceptable substitute for factual reporting, I present for your consideration some FACTS and ANALYSIS from ground zero.
The State Department began describing the symptoms allegedly reported by US diplomats as “incidents” and only recently ratcheted up the rhetoric to “attacks” (which imply intentional harm). The media took the bait. What does this suggest? It suggests that if any diplomats did return to the US under the cover of illness – real or feigned – someone reviewing that list made a political calculation, and set in motion a plan to use the incidents to justify a break in relations. The media would be key.
The mood at the Embassy after November 2016 was a dark one, filled with apathy and uncertainty, according to a close friend who witnessed it firsthand. Imagine if you will, more than two years of intense work with constant overtime, suddenly up in smoke. What awaits you if you request a transfer back to Washington? A State Department in ruins. So…one diplomat reports debilitating illness, with vague symptoms that cannot be pinned down to any particular source. It was crucial that the illness not be attributed to depression or PTSD, in order to avoid any future health insurance difficulties. Much better to pin it on environmental causes, opening the possibility for immediate disability coverage while charting one’s next career move. Discharge granted, with pay. Was it meant to destroy bilateral relations? Not really, it was more or less a personal calculation. But voilá. The news gets around. Another demoralized diplomat leaps out of the plane, simultaneously yanking the cord for the disability parachute. And so on.
No-one aside from Cuban immigration and the State Department knows how many diplomats were left to withdraw by the time Tillerson gave the order. By July, the captain had also abandoned ship, after all. My guess is, not as many as people imagine.
The US has not permitted Cuba to examine the residences where the incidents reportedly took place, nor has it allowed Cuban doctors to speak to the American doctors who reportedly examined the diplomats. This is not the behavior of someone interested in resolving a problem, it is the behavior of someone with something to hide.
Latin America (not just Cuba) tends to be rather flat-footed when faced with this kind of media show. In the public relations business, this is called crisis management and it requires immediate and aggressive action. (Also known as “getting in front of the story,” rather than continually playing defense.) There are thousands of Americans who specialize in this sort of thing, but Fidel was a master. It’s interesting to watch the expression on Cuban faces when you ask how this might have played out in days of yore. The most fleeting of smiles, widened eyes. Most with firsthand knowledge are too discreet to answer directly.