Thursday, May 24, 2018

And now, a China health mystery

I don’t doubt that U.S. personnel assigned to our embassy in Havana suffered some kind of harm.

But the Trump Administration’s handling of this matter has seemed political to me. Consider yesterday’s news about a U.S. diplomat in Guangzhou, China who suffered symptoms “very similar and entirely consistent with the medical indications that have taken place to Americans working in Cuba,” according to Secretary of State Pompeo.

What was done in response? The State Department issued a straightforward health alert to inform the public about the China incident. It noted that the cause of the diplomat’s symptoms is unknown. The Department did not change its China travel advisory, which tells U.S. travelers to exercise caution due to arbitrary arrests. No U.S. official has referred to “attacks” in China.

The Cuba advisory, on the other hand, is at a higher level on the State Department’s scale – it urges Americans to “reconsider” travel anywhere in Cuba, even though the incidents affected only U.S. diplomats and only in Havana. (Canada saw some of its diplomats affected in Havana; it informed the public but made no similar warning to Canadian travelers.) As in China, the Department has no idea what happened in Cuba, but that doesn’t stop U.S. officials from referring constantly to “attacks” in Cuba. Whereas Cuba’s offer of investigative assistance was treated at arm’s length, Secretary Pompeo announced that our Chinese friends “have responded in a way that is exactly the right response,” and “We’re working together to resolve it.”

Apart from the disparity in numbers, the two situations are similar: communist country, same symptoms, cause unknown. One is being handled normally, with actions that fit the situation and the lack of evidence. Cuba is handled differently because, let’s face it, the Trump Administration has essentially made Senator Rubio the Undersecretary of State for Cuba.

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