An Open Letter to Rep. Grace Meng on “Havana Syndrome”

Grace Meng
New York 6th Congressional District

Dear Representative Meng,

Did anyone from your family die from the Wuhan Flu? How many constituents of yours got infected with the China Virus?

Not very nice, is it?

Now you know how Cubans feel whenever they read or hear “Havana syndrome” in the news. Notice that I put it in quotations with syndrome lowercase, not like almost all publications, including official U.S. government documents, who irresponsibly print this miasma of symptoms without the proper punctuation, insinuating that it were an actual, well-defined malady, like Down Syndrome or Tourette Syndrome.

In fact, what is termed “Havana Syndrome” defies explanation. Its symptoms are shared with any number of other functional disorders. What was purported to have caused pathology turned out not to be true.

The medical consensus is sketchy, at best. The speculation as to what causes the symptoms is even more incredulous.

The State Department’s assessment alleging that the symptoms were invoked by a sonic attempt has been debunked. The National Academy of Science claimed that the recipients were subjected to directed microwave emissions. But research and science disagree.

Let’s start with the obvious – the Cubans have nothing to do with it.

It, like Covid-19, has spread all over the world. It has happened in China, Vietnam, Austria, Germany, India, Australia, Taiwan, Colombia, and right at home in our nation’s capital.

It has not affected any of the locals. I would remind you that all of the posited explanations from the government deem that the symptoms are due to external transmission. Whether it’s sonic, microwave, infrared, ultraviolet, or gamma ray, it is supposedly coming from some “secret weapon”, almost always inferred to be Russian, “zapping” its unsuspecting victims. First, no technology exists. Secondly, it would eventually be used on civilians, whether directly or indirectly. This is not the case.

Again, over 200 U.S. diplomats, be they members of the State Dept, C.I.A., civil service, contractors, or the military, in at least ten countries have reported these symptoms.

Try looking for statistics on how civilians in the countries where these “attacks” took place. There are none. According to the Internet it’s exclusive to U.S. and Canadian diplomats.

So, why not call it by its name -The Diplomat Syndrome.

Indeed, the evidence suggests that the symptoms are psychogenic. In other words, they are functional, “a confluence of psychological and neurological processes”. The author also states that “(t)hey are disorders, in other words, not of the brain’s hardware but of its software; not of objective injuries to the brain’s structure but of chronic alterations to how the brain functions, typically following exposure to an illness, a physical injury or stress. And the fact that the State Department and doctors the government selected to treat the diplomats have dismissed this explanation out of hand does not surprise these experts.”

This seems most plausible, given the insanity that has marked U.S. foreign policy, especially in Cuba. How could a well-intentioned diplomat countenance the counterproductive, unconstitutional measures dictated to a people whose only option is overthrow their government, or starve?

Allow me to speculate rampantly, or at least, actively. Maybe those diplomats woke up one day and looked around and said – “What in the hell am I doing?” It wouldn’t be a novel reaction, considering how much of America has got “woke” in the past few years.

It’s no coincidence that the first “attacks” allegedly happened in December of 2016, right after Donald J. Trump’s election. It’s no secret that his ascension to the White House and appointments like Mike Pompeo caused record low morale in the U.S. Department of State. 2016-2020 was, and remains, a trying period and the majority of the aforementioned incidents happened during his administration.

It’s also no secret that Cuba was punished severely for this. The first reports of this, and Rex Tillerson’s assertion that the Cubans had to know about it, was the beginning of the dismantling of all the things that had been accomplished during Obama. Diplomatic services were cut, causing undue hardship for Cuban Americans trying to either go or send things to the island. Diplomats were expelled from both countries. Right wing Cubans were going nuts in Miami and neither Biden nor the Dems did anything to counter the invective spewing on local media. Remittances to the island, its lifeblood, were cut off. This last measure a feckless Biden has yet to even address because he’s so scared of losing Florida.

Then, on January 12, 2021, as a parting gift, Trump placed Cuba back on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list. None of the official documents from the State Department mention these “attacks” as to why Cuba was relisted on such an ignominious list. Instead, the same rehashed accusations that landed the island on the list in 1982 were trotted out. So, what changed?

“Havana syndrome” is neither a condition, nor a diagnosis. It is a slur.

It’s a slur that’s been repeated numerous times by the most important leaders, journalists, and talking heads of the world. Like most slurs, it’s convenient. And, like all slurs, it is used as a bludgeon. It makes the user sound like he knows what he’s talking about, and puts he/she/they in a projected position of superiority. It has done real, palpable, damage to a country of eleven million people who have already been burdened by six decades of odious, unilateral legislation from this nation. Every time the slur is repeated, scenes of people enjoying themselves immensely on el malecon are flowing on the B roll. Every article that has the slur in its title (after all, How are you to get the eyeballs? Havana! It’s so exotic!) accompanied by a picture that could be taken straight off of the Havana Tourism Council’s website. There’s colonial architecture with the ’57 Chevy convertible with the fins and the top down. None of them have a person with their head in their hands or with a stunned, dazed look in their eyes. No, that’s not sexy.

As we all know, words have consequences. They weigh, they cast shadows, invoke fear and hatred.

Are you really going to allow the use of this slur to perpetuate?

Your humble constituent,

Benjamin Willis

I’m a musician, interpreter, and writer living in New York’s fightin’ 6th. I am a founding and former member of CAFE – Cuban Americans for Engagement, and, have led a delegation into your office before and discussed how harmful U.S policy is for Cuban-Americans, American citizens and businesses, the Cuban people, etc.

P.S.   According to the 2020 census, there are 2844 constituents in New York’s 6th congressional, both yours and mine, that classify themselves as Cubans. (The link is down on your homepage…Oy vey!)


Benjamin Willis is an activist living in New York who worked with the Cuban American community in bringing about engagement during the Obama era.