WASHINGTON, D.C. - Following the Senate Foreign Relations hearing on the health incidents impacting U.S. diplomats in Havana, James Williams, President of Engage Cuba, released the following statement responding to Senator Rubio's remarks on potential Russian involvement.
"The hearing that took place today confirmed that we still do not know what is causing the unexplained incidents impacting the health of U.S. and Canadian diplomats and their families.
"As Senator Rubio stated today, if these incidents were attacks made by a third party country, the perpetrators have a clear goal of derailing the process of normalizing relations with Cuba.
"For the US to retreat from Cuba in response is a dangerous concession to foreign adversaries like Russia, who are signing commercial deals, providing oil and supporting the Cuban military in an attempt to regain a foothold in the region.
"Given Russia's history of harassing U.S. diplomats abroad and their growing influence in Cuba, Senator Rubio was right to question Russia's involvement in the incidents. It is becoming increasingly clear that rolling back engagement with Cuba would be a gift to Putin.
"Beyond Cuba, allowing a foreign adversary to dictate our U.S. policies abroad sets a dangerous precedent and weakens our national security.
"With Raul Castro scheduled to step aside in April, now is the time for US engagement, not disengagement."
Senator Rubio Transcriptions from the Hearing: "It leads you down the road of motivation. And I think it’s fair to say, and I think most members of this committee would argue as well, and I think many of you would probably share this view, that whoever did this, did it because they wanted there to be friction between the United States and the Cuban government. That would be the motivation behind this—someone who wanted to cause friction between the United States and the Cuban government, particularly, if you look at the timing of these attacks—November, December 2016—after the election—so it makes you start to think: who would do this? Someone that doesn’t like our presence there, someone who wants there to be this sort of friction between the U.S. So who would be motivated to create friction, who would not be in favor of an increased U.S. presence in Cuba? The first, obviously, would be opponents of the Cuba opening under the Obama administration."
"And then, the last one, then you say, if it wasn’t a rogue element within the Castro government, maybe it was a third country. Which third country would want to disrupt a U.S. presence there? And the logical conclusion is Russia and Vladimir Putin. During the Cold War, do we have any documented cases of similar attacks against individuals anywhere in the world?"
On June 16, 2017, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) penned an op-ed titled "Putin's stake in President Trump's decision on Cuba policy." In the op-ed which ran in The Hill, Senator Leahy stated that, "Cuba, a former Soviet satellite, remains within arm’s reach of President Putin. As the economic and political crisis deepens in Venezuela – Cuba’s post-Soviet patron – Russia is eager to regain its once diminished sphere of influence over our island neighbor." The full op-ed is available here.