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The Facts —
- The US has ordered all non-essential staff and their families to leave the US Embassy located in Havana, Cuba, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement released Friday.
- This comes after 21 US Embassy employees have suffered “a variety of injuries from attacks of an unknown nature” over the past several months, which Tillerson described as follows:
“The affected individuals have exhibited a range of physical symptoms, including ear complaints, hearing loss, dizziness, headache, fatigue, cognitive issues, and difficulty sleeping.”
- Tillerson said investigators have not been able to determine who or what is causing the attacks, but that Cuba will continue to investigate the attacks and the US will cooperate with Cuba to that end. Tillerson added:
“Until the Government of Cuba can ensure the safety of our diplomats in Cuba, our Embassy will be reduced to emergency personnel in order to minimize the number of diplomats at risk of exposure to harm.”
- Tillerson said:
“The health, safety, and well-being of our Embassy community is our greatest concern. We will continue to aggressively investigate these attacks until the matter is resolved.”
Travel Advisory for US Citizens Regarding Cuba —
- The Department of Travel has also issued a travel warning advising US citizens to avoid travel to Cuba and that the US has limited its diplomatic staff.
- The advisory stated:
- “Due to the drawdown in staff, the US Embassy in Havana has limited ability to assist US citizens. The Embassy will provide only emergency services to US citizens.
- “US citizens in Cuba in need of emergency assistance should contact the Embassy by telephone at +(53)(7) 839-4100 or the Department of State at 1-202-501-4444.
- “US citizens should not attempt to go to the US Embassy as it suffered severe flood damage during Hurricane Irma.”
Relations with Cuba —
- This reduction in staff comes as Raul Castro is expected to soon step down as president of Cuba, according to CNN.
- Castro has called for municipal elections to be held on 22 October, which will be the first vote held in the country for at least 47 years (the time the late Fidel Castro ruled before passing away in November).
- Newsweek explained:
“Following the municipal election, Cubans will select – at a date still to be decided – the members the National Assembly of People’s Power, a 614-seat legislative body that elects the president and their vice-president.”
- Barbara Stephenson, president of the American Foreign Service Association, told CNN that said the organization that represents diplomats is against reducing staff at the Embassy, saying:
“Our view is that American diplomats need to remain on the field and in the game. We have a mission to do and we’re used to operating around the globe with serious health risks. We are not saying there aren’t health hazards there. But there are health hazards everywhere and we want the same choice.”
- The US and Cuba only recently restored diplomatic relations in 2015 under President Barack Obama, after severing relations in 1961 during the Cold War.
- Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez said that the Cuban government was not involved in the recent unspecified attacks on diplomats and that the US was politicizing the incidents in a meeting with Tillerson on Tuesday, according to CNN.
Stephanie Haney contributed to this report.