March 24, 2018

USA will expel Cuban diplomats as fallout deepens over mystery illnesses

05 October 2017, 12:31 | Leigh Flowers

US Boots 15 Cuban Diplomats out of Washington

Tillerson kicks out 15 Cuban diplomats from Washington over mystery attacks on Havana embassy which have left 22 Americans ill

The Trump administration is expected to oust two-thirds of Cuba's embassy staff from Washington, D.C. after a string of sonic attacks against American diplomats in Cuba, according to several sources.

The announcement comes less than a week after the US reduced its diplomatic presence in Havana following mysterious attacks on USA personnel in Cuba.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ordered more than half the U.S. Embassy staff, and all family members, to depart Havana for their safety Friday while the inquiry continues.

Neither the FBI nor a separate Cuba investigation has been able to determine what and who is causing the maladies that have befallen at least 22 Americans stationed at the embassy, with symptoms ranging from hearing loss to cognitive disorders.

"Some U.S. government personnel who were working at our embassy in Havana, Cuba, on official duties - so they were there working on behalf of the U.S. embassy there - they've reported some incidents which have caused a variety of physical symptoms", Heather Nauert, a spokeswoman for the State Department, said in a news briefing back on August 9.

The U.S. also suspended processing of all visas in Havana, which has created uncertainty among Cuban families divided by the Florida Straits.

The US restored formal ties in 2015 with Havana after more than half a century.

Cuba, the United States and Canada have investigated the attacks, but the probes have not yielded any answers about how they were carried out or who was responsible.

JIMENEZ: This is going to complicate and slow down any of our bilateral cooperation just simply based on the fact that there will be an insufficient number of people at the - at the Cuban Embassy here in do very basic things like process visas or meet with USA businesspeople interested in doing business on the island.

Following Trump's decisions on this issue, several voices described the U.S. State Department's measures as excessive and alerted how risky it would be for the normalization process of bilateral relations.

"The decision to call them attacks reflects that there's been a consistent pattern of our people being affected, and there's no other conclusion that we could draw", a State Department official told reporters on a conference call Tuesday following the expulsion of Cuban officials.

"If the U.S. government is serious about solving this mystery, they shouldn't make it more hard to cooperate with the Cuban government during this critical time of the investigation", said James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, a group that aims to strengthen U.S. -Cuba ties.

US officials initially suspected that sophisticated acoustic devices were used to aim damaging sound waves at Americans.

"So the idea that over 20 Americans working for the State Department, working for the U.S. Embassy could be severely injured in Cuba and the Cuban government not know anything about it is ridiculous", he added.

The US has expelled 15 Cuban diplomats over the mysterious incidents that have left staff members with health problems.

Cuba's foreign minister says Washington's response to mysterious attacks on its diplomats has been "irresponsible" and "hasty".

Yet Americans in Cuba these days may not be safe - at least as far as USA security officials can tell. We need to be smart and thoughtful in responding to these attacks.

"It looks like we are returning the threats and tensions of the 1960s", said Maria Fernandez, a 45-year-old office worker in Havana.

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