Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), a longtime supporter of improving ties to Cuba’s communist dictatorship, claimed Friday there is “no evidence” of sonic attacks against American embassy workers in Cuba.
Flake, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, met with Cuban communist leaders last Friday, including Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez and other Interior Ministry officials.
He later relayed claims from Cuban officials that, after four separate visits, the FBI had determined there was no evidence that the attacks were intentional nor that illnesses suffered by Cuban officials were linked to the attacks.
“The Cuban Interior Ministry is saying the FBI has told them there is no evidence of a sonic attack, even though that term is being used, attack, there is no evidence of it,” Flake told the AP following the meeting.
“There’s no evidence that somebody purposefully tried to harm somebody,” he continued. “Nobody is saying that these people didn’t experience some event, but there’s no evidence that that was a deliberate attack by somebody, either the Cubans or anybody else.”
The attacks, which allegedly took place last August, triggered another diplomatic incident between both countries and led to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson withdrawing all non-emergency personnel after dozens of workers reported cases of hearing loss, headaches, concussion-like symptoms, and brain damage.
Audio of the attack later released by the Associated Press, taken from unnamed sources with knowledge of the situation, resembled a high-pitch screeching noise. At least one former Cuban political prisoner who heard the sound claimed it resembled one used to torture prisoners of conscience on the island decades ago.
Cuban officials have strenuously denied claims they coordinated the attacks, and even produced a detailed report and an hour-long documentary blaming cicadas and crickets for making the noises in question. The explanation does not account for the medical symptoms suffered by the victims.
“These results were presented to American counterparts as the plausible cause of some of the sonic incidents reported,” Cuban state propaganda outlet Granma wrote in October. The report added that such incidents were common in Cuba and that such insects “were identified in the field test executed in areas near the residences of the American diplomats.”
President Donald Trump has meanwhile asserted his belief that Cuba was responsible.
Flake has advocated for opening up relations with Cuba’s communist regime and was a vocal supporter of Barack Obama’s “Cuban thaw” that involved the opening of diplomatic channels, the lifting of travel restrictions, increased levels of trade, and the reopening of embassies in Washington and Havana.
“I don’t often agree with President Obama, but he was right to begin the process of normalizing relations with Cuba,” Flake said in 2014. “The funny thing about freedom is that when people experience a little more of it, they don’t want to give it up, and they want more than they have. That has been the case with travel and will continue to be the case in Cuba.”
Flake is one of few Republicans to support increased relations with Cuba, standing against the likes of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), as well as Donald Trump himself, who all vehemently support continued sanctions against the communist regime.
In November, Flake, who is a vociferous critic of Donald Trump, confirmed that he would not run for re-election after polls showed his primary challenger Dr. Kelli Ward with a double-digit lead.
Following the announcement, Flake’s received praise from the pro-Cuban lobby group Engage Cuba, known for their work promoting the Castro regime.
“Understanding the importance of free markets, individual liberty and human rights, Senator Flake has championed the efforts to change 55 years of failed policy towards Cuba,” the statement said. “The overwhelming majority of the American and Cuban people support Senator Flake’s approach. Thanks to Senator Flake’s tireless efforts, the path is now paved for Republicans and Democrats alike to take this issue across the finish line.”