MIAMI - When reports of a covert sonic device hurting U.S. diplomats in Havana surfaced, Luis Zuñiga Rey said he remembered how Cuban authorities used sonic devices to torture him in prison.
After leaving Cuba, Zuñiga dedicated his life to fighting against Fidel Castro and his Communist regime. Cuban authorities arrested him and accused him of trying to sneak explosives and weapons into the island in 1974. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
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"He completed only 14, being released in 1988," Cuban ambassador Orlando Requeijo Gual wrote in a letter to the United Nations.
Zuñiga said he feared the destabilizing "high-pitch" of sonic torture in prison. He said he used pieces of fabric from his underwear and turned them into earplugs to protect himself. He believes Cubans likely have more advanced sonic technology capable of doing more harm.
The U.S. State Department was investigating what prompted the health issues that at least 16 Americans suffered in Cuba. Some of the victims were working at the embassy in Cuba or were relatives of U.S. diplomats.
"I know that they have been going through the process of bringing the majority of those people back to have through testing," White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders said during the Thursday press briefing.
Investigators were investigating if covert sonic devices were used to attack or to spy. Canadian authorities also reported similar incidents. Cuban officials denied having anything to do with the incidents and Canadians said they were cooperating with the investigation.
U.S. laws protect the privacy of the diplomats' medical records, but after the announcement several reports described the gravity of the threat.
While most of the details remain a mystery, CNN reported at least one needed a hearing aid. The New York Times reported one had a more serious illness that involved a blood disorder. And on Wednesday, CBS News reported some diplomats suffered traumatic brain injuries and damage to the central nervous system.
Zuñiga believes there are Cubans who oppose a U.S. presence on the island. The Cold War foes just reestablished relations in 2014 and Cubans expect more changes with President Donald Trump, who promised the Cuban exile community that he was going to reverse former President Barack Obama's policy.
Controversy surrounds Zuñiga. Cuban officials refer to him as a terrorist and a mercenary. But in Miami's Little Havana, he is described as a patriot, a brave counter-revolutionary, a City of Miami consultant and an activist with the Cuban Liberty Council.
Cuban diplomats protested when he was a member of the official U.S. delegation of the human rights commission in 1999. Requeijo accused him of trying to gather intelligence to sabotage thermoelectric plants, port terminals and oil refineries and of being involved in an operation to plant explosives in hotels and hospitals. Cuban officials also linked him to a paramilitary force and said he was a Central Intelligence Agency operative.
Local 10 News' Ross Palombo and Hatzel Vela contributed to this report. Ross reported from Washington and Vela reported from Havana.
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