Published: Wed, October 04, 2017
Economy | By Melissa Porter

United States expels 15 Cuba officials after mysterious attacks

United States expels 15 Cuba officials after mysterious attacks

The United States on Tuesday ordered the expulsion of 15 Cuban diplomats, accusing Havana of failing to protect U.S. diplomats following a series of mysterious incidents in which embassy staff were sickened.

USA secretary of state Rex Tillerson said the move would "ensure equity".

"The decision to reduce our diplomatic presence in Havana was made to ensure the safety of our personnel", Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement.

USA 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.

The attacks, which U.S. officials initially suggested could have come from some sort of covert acoustic device, have affected at least 22 USA embassy staff in Havana over the past few months.

Diplomats have been treated for ear complaints, hearing loss, dizziness, tinnitus, balance problems, visual complaints, headaches, fatigue, cognitive issues and difficulty sleeping, a senior United States official said.

The latest move by the Trump administration is a blow to former President Barack Obama's legacy to improve relations between the US and Cuba, two Cold War foes who did not have diplomatic relations until the Obama administration restored them.

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

The federal official, who said that there are 21 US diplomats who had health problems, reiterated today that the reasons for those events are still unknown.

A USA investigation into the matter is still ongoing.

Speaking to reporters in Havana, Rodriguez said Cuba was strongly protesting the expulsions and that the United States was not providing sufficient information to Cuban investigators.

Before full diplomatic relations were restored in 2015, Cuba had about two-dozen accredited staffers at what was then the Cuban interests section, according to a State Department list.

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.

USA officials had previously told reporters they believed some kind of inaudible sound weapon was used on the U.S. staff either inside or outside their residences in Havana.

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

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

Diplomats in Havana that handle American citizen services, analyze Cuba's political system and handle outreach to the island's dissident community were also leaving.

The State Department hasn't blamed the Cuban government for the attacks but says Cuba should be responsible for taking steps to prevent them.

In a letter last month, five Republican senators pushed for the secretary of state to expel Cuban diplomats.

Canada and the United States have responded in drastically different ways to freakish attacks on diplomatic personnel in Havana, with the Americans pursuing a hardline approach that escalated Tuesday.

Webster Hare cited a September speech at the UN General Assembly in which Trump said the United States "has stood against the corrupt and destabilising regime in Cuba".

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