Biden Administration May Restaff U.S. Embassy in Havana

President Biden may restaff the U.S. Embassy in Havana after the Trump administration pulled diplomats from Cuba three years ago.

Video Transcript


PATRICK OPPMANN: When the flag went up over the US embassy in Havana for the first time in more than 50 years, it marked not only the resumption of US-Cuban diplomatic ties, but also a crowning foreign policy achievement for then President Barack Obama.

BARACK OBAMA: I have come here to bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas.


PATRICK OPPMANN: That optimism proved to be wishful thinking. Shortly before Obama left office, US diplomats-- some of them were undercover CIA officers-- began falling mysteriously ill. The most seriously impacted had brain injuries. Doctors that examined them said many of the Americans reported hearing strange sounds. And the incidents became known as the Sonic Attacks.

By fall of 2017, diplomats' families and non-essential personnel were pulled out by the State Department, leaving a skeleton crew at the newly reopened embassy. More than three years later, the shutdown means Cubans still cannot apply for visas at the embassy-- leaving people like Victor, who's hoping to travel to the US to treat a rare form of cancer, stranded.


PATRICK OPPMANN: The answer we got was that they couldn't receive the request because the consulate was closed, he says. Even though it's a medical situation, a situation of life or death. US interests are also not being served.

Major changes are underway in Cuba. There have been unprecedented protests by artists against censorship. The Cuban government is easing restrictions on private entrepreneurs, and Raul Castro is expected to step down in April as head of the island's Communist Party. But right now there is almost no US diplomatic presence on this island.

The Biden administration announced it was reviewing the decision to reduce embassy staffing. But what caused the diplomat's illness may never be known. A study released by the National Academy of Sciences in December, pointed to the possibility of concentrated microwave energy as a possible culprit-- something Cuba's investigators quickly dismissed.

DR. MITCHELL VALDES SOSA: There is no physical possibility of a microwave weapon penetrating hotel rooms, houses, and causing brain damage without burning the skin and without harming other [INAUDIBLE].

PATRICK OPPMANN: A declassified review from 2018 obtained by the National Security Archive, indicated that US government officials botched the initial investigation into the attacks.

KATHY MATSUI: Even a year and a half after all of this began, US investigators did not have the vaguest idea of what happened-- if anything-- in Cuba. And the report makes that pretty crystal clear.

PATRICK OPPMANN: A lawyer for the US diplomats tells CNN his clients are still feeling the impacts of the so-called Havana Syndrome. Even if the Biden administration decides to send other officials to replace them, the mystery of how US diplomats fell ill in Cuba may never be solved.