Amid concerns over a mysterious health attack on Americans in Cuba, the United States has ordered close to 60 percent of its staff and their families at the U.S. Embassy in Havana to leave. They’ve also warned U.S. citizens against traveling to the country.
On Friday, senior State Department officials announced the withdrawal and travel warning. Department officials said the U.S. will also stop issuing visas in Cuba indefinitely and would stop official delegation travel to the country, following a string of unexplained ailments affecting at least 21 victims, including U.S. diplomats, in Cuba.
The recently reopened U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba, will be left with a slim crew, once the designated staffers leave. The embassy will still provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in the country, however many routine services will be unavailable.
The State Department says the symptoms of the affliction are similar to those experienced after a concussion, including nausea, headaches and ear-ringing. Some victims have been left with permanent hearing loss, while others now struggle with concentration or other forms of cognitive disruption.
The attacks began in the fall of 2016, and new attacks have occurred as recently as last month, a State Department official confirmed.
The State Department is calling the unexplained ailments a potential “sonic” attack. According to reports, some victims felt vibrations or heard loud sounds, which were only audible in certain parts of rooms, leading investigators to consider the “sonic attack” theory, although some of the people who reported symptoms heard nothing. U.S. investigators have yet to find any such device.
On Friday, the U.S. issued a travel warning, advising American citizens not to travel to Cuba due to potential threats to their safety. According to the State Department, U.S. citizens traveling in Cuba could “be at risk” of suffering from mysterious attacks.
“U.S. embassy personnel are most at risk but … the American public traveling in Cuba might also be at risk as well,” a senior State Department official told reporters Friday morning.
Travel by U.S. officials will be limited to those conducting the investigation into the attacks, and to those with business related to U.S. national security interests.
According to reports, Sec. of State Rex Tillerson decided to withdraw non-essential staff from the embassy, after considering a total shutdown of the facility. Tillerson said earlier this month that the future of the embassy was “under evaluation.”
A senior State Department official said that the staff reduction and limited services will remain in effect until the safety of Americans in the country can be assured by the Cuban government. The U.S. will maintain diplomatic relations with Havana, the official said.
The Cuban government has denied responsibility for health afflictions and has offered the FBI “unprecedented access” to complete its probe, according to The Hill.
“The governments of the United States and Cuba have not yet identified the responsible party, but the government of Cuba is responsible for taking all appropriate steps to prevent attacks on our diplomatic personnel in Cuba,” the official said.
The U.S. is also considering the possibility that a third country could be responsible for the attacks, according to State Department official.
“We have no way of advising American citizens on how they could mitigate such attacks, [and so] we felt that we must warn them not to travel to Cuba,” the State Department official said.
“Meetings may continue in the United States,” the official said. “We maintain diplomatic relations with Cuba and our work in Cuba continues to be guided by the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States.”
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