US plans major withdrawal of diplomats from embassy in Cuba

This AFP file photo taken on December 17, 2015 shows the US Embassy in Havana, Cuba.
This AFP file photo taken on December 17, 2015 shows the US Embassy in Havana, Cuba.

The United States is preparing to announce a major withdrawal of staff and family from the US embassy in Cuba in response to mysterious health attacks targeting diplomats. Only essential personnel will be left.

An internal memo had been sent to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson advising that the US withdraw nonessential employees in Cuba, CBS News reported Thursday, citing several sources.

Tillerson threatened earlier this month that Washington would shut down its embassy in the Cuban capital.

Washington has expelled two Cuban diplomats over the health-related episodes, although it has not directly blamed Havana for the incidents.

Tillerson met with Cuban Foreign Secretary Bruno Eduardo Rodriguez Parrillan Washington on Tuesday to discuss about recent emergence of symptoms of hearing loss and nausea among US diplomatic personnel and their families in the Cuban capital Havana.

But the meeting did not offer the secretary any reassurance that Havana was taking steps to protect US diplomats in the country, according to CBS.

“The Cuban government has never perpetrated nor will it ever perpetrate attacks of any kind against diplomats,” according to a Cuban readout of the meeting. “The Cuban government has never permitted nor will it ever permit the use of its territory by third parties for this purpose.”

“There is no evidence so far of the cause or the origin of the health disorders reported by the U.S. diplomats,” it read.

US diplomats have complained about symptoms ranging from hearing loss and nausea to headaches and balance issues. The State Department said “incidents” began affecting them in late 2016.

Despite the presence of several theories, including a sonic attack, experts have been unable to explain the matter. Audiologists, for instance, have questioned the possibility of whether a sonic weapon exists that can be covertly used to bring about the range of symptoms reported by affected diplomats.

Former President Barack Obama re-established diplomatic relations with Cuba in 2015 and loosened some restrictions on doing business in the country. The two states had been long-time Cold War adversaries.

US President Donald Trump vowed in June to partially roll back the détente devised by Obama. Trump described Havana as “corrupt and destabilizing” in his address to the United Nations General Assembly earlier this month.

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