WASHINGTON — A delegation of Cuban scientists met with their US counterparts at the State Department in Washington, DC, on Thursday — the first meeting between the two groups since American diplomats in Havana described having health symptoms more than a year ago.
At a news conference at the Cuban Embassy late Thursday, the delegation said it has been requesting such a meeting since the US Embassy in Havana first informed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of allegations of acoustic attacks in February 2017. While the Cubans expressed “gratitude” to the State Department for finally having a meeting, Johana Tablada de la Torre, the deputy director general of US issues at the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the United States still has not given Cuba access to medical data, clinical data, or the doctors from the University of Pennsylvania who conducted tests on the diplomats, the results of which were written up in a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
That report — and the subsequent letters criticizing its findings — were all that the Cuban doctors were given access to at their meeting with State Department doctors.
“[At the meeting] we first heard a review of the findings presented in the JAMA paper. We expressed our criticism of the paper and we received no response,” said Mitchell Joseph Valdés Sosa, general director of the Cuban Neurosciences Center, one of nine doctors present at the embassy press briefing.
The Cuban delegation said the State Department did not rebut its assertion that the reported illnesses might have been psychosomatic in origin. But Valdés Sosa said that finding was not the only conclusion that could be reached about the illness, only that it “can’t be discounted.”
Another member of the Cuban delegation, Pedro Antonio Valdés Sosa, deputy director of the Cuban Neurosciences Center and Mitchell Joseph Valdés Sosa’s twin brother, said Cuba was intent on getting to the bottom of what had caused the ailments.
“We don’t want to diminish what’s happened to them,” he said. But, he added, “If we don’t use the scientific method, we’re not going to get anywhere.”
In addition to urging further medical cooperation, the Cuban delegation insisted that the State Department, which has yet to say conclusively what caused the reported illnesses, should stop referring to what occurred as an attack.
Asked what he thought of the idea that Russia was responsible for what happened to the diplomats, an idea that has recently been the subject of news coverage, Mitchell Joseph Valdés Sosa answered, “If you’re going to try to explain why donkeys fly, you first have to see a flying donkey. We don’t see flying donkeys.”
The delegation wondered again why the State Department had decided that it was an attack, or even that the same affliction was ailing all of the diplomats, without working in concert with the Cuban medical and scientific community.
During a briefing, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert acknowledged the meeting before it took place. She said then that the department would not provide details of the meeting.
“They’re having meetings with the Cuban government to discuss some of the medical issues that our people have experienced,” she said. “That is something that involves the private medical information that is coming forth from some of our people, but I can confirm there is a meeting taking place here at the State Department.”
Reached after the Cubans' news conference, a State Department spokesperson referred a reporter to Nauert's statement.
Asked whether Canadian diplomats who also complained of illness had been more cooperative with their Cuban counterparts, Tablada de la Torre said, “We would prefer to speak about Canada in Canada. Or in Havana.”
The Canadian Embassy in Washington, DC, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.