Tuesday, 24 October, 2017

USA will expel 15 Cuban diplomats, escalating tensions over mystery illnesses

The Cuban national flag is seen raised over their embassy in Washington DC FIGHTING FUND
Juana Turner | 04 October, 2017, 00:14

The Trump administration has ordered the expulsion of 15 Cuban diplomats from Washington over the next week in response to unexplained "attacks" that have sickened 22 American officials posted in Havana.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said, however, that Washington would maintain diplomatic relations even though the size of the U.S. mission in Havana would be reduced to a minimum.

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.

"Until the government of Cuba can ensure the safety of our diplomats in Cuba, our embassy will be reduced to emergency personnel to minimize the number of diplomats at risk of exposure to harm". It comes as the U.S. seeks to protect its own diplomats from unexplained attacks that have harmed at least 21 Americans in Havana with ailments that affected their hearing, cognition, balance, and vision.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said it's "ridiculous" to think the Cuban government didn't know about the attacks that caused hearing loss, dizziness, and fatigue among USA embassy employees working in Cuba.

But the USA was adamant Tuesday: diplomatic relations with Cuba will continue.

The steps being taken by President Donald Trump´s administration mark a further blow to his predecessor Barack Obama´s policy of rapprochement between Washington and Havana, former Cold War foes.

Havana has pledged to continue to investigate and the USA will assist in the effort, Tillerson said.

It has been less than three years since the US and Cuba renewed diplomatic relations.

We will also continue with our own investigation, added the State Department representative, who stressed that such decisions do not represent a determination of guilt.

The move to push out the Cuban diplomats comes after the United States chose to pull back its own staff from the island nation after suspicious "health attacks" in Havana left some victims with hearing loss and speech problems.

Some fear these expulsions could harm diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba.

"The ministry urges the competent authorities of the USA government not to continue politicizing this matter, which can provoke an undesirable escalation", Rodriguez said, referring to Cuba's Foreign Ministry.

The decision announced Tuesday is certain to deepen the rift between the two countries over what the State Department has called "specific attacks" on US diplomats during the past 10 months.

The U.S. says at least 21 American government workers in Havana have been attacked. The departing Americans are expected to have all left Cuba by week's end, officials said.

On Tuesday, a State Department official said they had confirmed an additional American diplomat was affected by an attack back in January but had only been re-examined recently.

Earlier last week, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez to discuss the incidents.

But he said his decision to withdraw 60 percent of USA diplomats from the embassy in Havana will remain in effect until Cuba can ensure that American diplomats there are safe.

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.

It also said new, faster communications channels have been opened between the United States embassy in Havana and Cuba's diplomatic security department.

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