Press Release
 26 August 1997

 Cuban Biological Weapons allegations: More questions than answers
Cuba still accuses US of biological aggression

The United States was not able to fully refute allegation in Geneva yesterday that the US used biological weapons against Cuba. Cuba accuses the US of biological aggression, claiming that in October 1996 an American airplane dropped Thrips palmi, an insect that does severe damage to crops over Cuban territory. The plague was first observed in Cuba in December 1996. Since then, more than 20,000 tons of agricultural goods have been destroyed, Cuba says.

The Formal Consultative Meeting of States Parties to the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) in Geneva might have severe consequences for the Convention. Never before have the State Parties dealt with formal allegations of use of biological weapons by one state against another. "The results of the meeting will affect negotiations on a verification protocol to the BTWC, which are currently also taking place in Geneva", says Oliver Meier, Senior Analyst at the Berlin Information-center for Transatlantic Security (BITS). "Standards for future cases like this one are being set."

In Monday's session, the participating states agreed that Cuba and the US deal with the subject in a bilateral framework today. The meeting is being facilitated by British Ambassador Ian Soutar, who is chairing the Consultative Meeting and his office. Tomorrow, on Wednesday, the results are going to discussed in another plenary session.

The Cuban allegations are based on the observations of the pilot of a Cuban commercial plane. On 21 October 1996 the pilot saw an American S2R plane, "spraying or sprinkling unknown substances - some seven times - in an intermittent manner".

The US presentation in Geneva could not answer many of the questions raised by the Cubans. The US still argues that the American pilot was using his smoke-generating system to signal his position to the Cuban plane. According to the US, this is a "standard procedure", in which oil is burned by coming in contact with the exhaust. The Cubans continue to question this.

The US delegation did also not explain why the plane used the Girón air-corridor, instead of the common route, known as the"sugar cane corridor". Sugar cane is resistant to Thrips palmi. The US further maintains that the S2R would not have been technically capable of carrying and disseminating Thrips palmi on such a long-haul-flight. The US documentation, however, does not contain a clear photo of the plane that flew over Cuba, to exclude the possibility that the plane, which is used in drug eradication programs in Latin America, was equipped with special modifications.

The US argues that there are other ways by which Cuba could have become infected with Thrips palmi, which is present throughout the region. The insect could have "hitchhiked" in tourists luggage or have been disseminated by hurricane "Lily". "Why is no comparative genetical analysis of Thrips palmi being conducted?", asks Otfried Nassauer, Director of BITS.

For further information or a copy of the documents provided by the government of Cuba, please call
Otfried Nassauer or Oliver Meier (BITS, Berlin) +49 (0)30 4426042
BITS is an independent research institute monitoring security issues.