Sep 15, 2017 - Politics & Policy

Castro denies involvement in mystery 'health attacks'

Cuba's President Raul Castro, center. Photo: Ramon Espinosa / AP

At least 21 U.S. diplomats in Cuba have become victims of mystery "health attacks" that have caused hearing loss and mild brain injury, per the Associated Press, leaving the U.S. government confounded. It initially suspected that the diplomats were targeted by a covert sonic weapon, but later said that brain injury is unlikely the result from sound.

Cuban President Raul Castro met with Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the American Embassy chief, in February and said he was "equally befuddled, and concerned" with the incidents, and denied any culpability.

Why this is surprising: When the U.S. has accused Cuba of misconduct in the past, Havana has often responded criticizing Washington for creating a fabrication. But Castro didn't dispute that something wrong may have taken place on Cuban soil.

More on the "health attacks"

  • Timing: The U.S. reportedly first acknowledged the incidents in August, nine months after the Americans' symptoms were first reported. And now some victims are having problems concentrating and recalling specific words.
  • Where they took place: Officials said the victims were attacked either in their homes or in a hotel. One incident occurred in the recently renovated Hotel Capri.
  • Theories: The Trump administration has yet to identify who or what was responsible for the attacks, but have probed several possibilities such as whether Cuba's government, a "rogue faction" of its security forces, a third country —like Russia — or some combination of the three were responsible.

Differing symptoms and accounts of what happened

  • Some victims said they knew it was happening in real time, and felt it was a sonic attack.
  • Others said they heard a grinding noise.
  • Some said they felt vibrations and heard loud ringing or high-pitched chirping sounds.
  • Others awoke with ringing in their ears or reached for their alarms, later to learn the sound stopped when they were away from their beds.
  • And then some said they heard and felt nothing at all until much later.
  • Symptoms: Some have mild traumatic brain injury or a concussion, while others have permanent hearing loss. Other symptoms have included "brain swelling, dizziness, nausea, severe headaches, balance problems and tinnitus, or prolonged ringing in the ears. Many victims have shown improvement since leaving Cuba and some suffered only minor or temporary symptoms," per AP.

This story has been updated to reflect that Castro and DeLaurentis met in February. An earlier version of this sorry incorrectly stated the meeting took place Friday.

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