U.S. expels 15 Cuban diplomats over Havana embassy mystery illness
The Trump administration will tell Cuba on Tuesday to remove the majority of its diplomats from Washington, D.C. after the USA cut its own embassy staff in Havana last week, according to a new report.
The announcement comes less than a week after the US reduced its diplomatic presence in Havana following mysterious attacks on USA personnel in Cuba.
The Cuban diplomat said his country has no equipment that could be used in such attacks, adding that the United States failed to present enough information to Cuba to investigate the matter, including health records of allegedly affected diplomats.
But he said his decision to withdraw 60% of U.S. diplomats from the embassy in Havana will remain in effect until Cuba can ensure that American diplomats there are safe.
USA government officials insist that the forced reduction in Cuban diplomatic personnel does not signal a change in US policy toward Cuba, nor does it imply that Washington is ready to blame Havana for mysterious ailments that have now affected 22 US diplomats.
Cuba says during the second and third visits, it let the USA import special equipment and granted access to all facilities.
"The United States is using the confusion and uncertainty surrounding these events as justification to take a big step backwards in US-Cuban relations", he said.
The US previously had roughly 50 American workers at its embassy in Havana, so the 60 per cent reduction will bring the figure down to roughly 20.
The administration kicked out two diplomats in May due to the illnesses, but officials chose to add more as the list of those affected continues to grow. Yet, the move will bring the two countries closer to the chilly state of relations they endured for decades until 2015, when they restored formal ties and reopened embassies in Havana and Washington. The staff already was reduced because of hurricane warnings, and officials did not say how many people subsequently left the country. To date, the Trump administration largely described the victims as U.S. Embassy personnel or members of the diplomatic community, suggesting it was bona fide diplomats who were hit.
He did not comment on reports that the sonic attacks that led to this move were caused by rogue elements within the Cuban government.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and other USA policymakers struggled deeply with how to respond to the attacks, Trump administration officials said.
The U.S. has called the mysterious health ailments - diplomats have reported symptoms including hearing loss, dizziness, headaches, fatigue, cognitive issues, and difficulty sleeping - attacks and Cuba has said it is not at fault.
"We do not have any reason to believe Canadian tourists and other visitors could be affected", said a statement last week from Ottawa.
Cuba has denied involvement in the attacks and is conducting its own investigation.
"Anyone who has interacted Cuba, been to Cuba or has anything to do with Cuba understands that very little happens in Havana that the Cuban government doesn't know about, especially Americans working for the State Department", Rubio said on CBS's Face the Nation.
U.S. officials said they were confident that the incidents were targeted attacks, pointing out that some of the affected diplomats had been staying in a hotel, where none of the hotel workers seem to have been affected.
For those staying and new arrivals, the United States has been giving instructions about what to watch and listen for to identify an attack in progress.
"Regarding the attacks, there are now 22 persons medically confirmed to have experienced health effects due to the attacks on diplomatic personnel in Havana".