WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Friday cut its diplomatic presence in Cuba by more than half and warned U.S. citizens not to visit because of attacks that have caused hearing loss, dizziness and fatigue in U.S. embassy personnel.
The U.S. embassy in Havana will halt regular visa operations and offer only emergency services to U.S. citizens, steps that may further erode the U.S.-Cuban rapprochement begun by former President Barack Obama.
Officials in the administration of President Donald Trump stressed that the U.S. was maintaining diplomatic ties with Cuba.
The attacks, which are of an unknown nature, have injured 21 U.S. embassy employees in Cuba, causing symptoms such as hearing loss, dizziness, headache, fatigue, cognitive issues, and difficulty sleeping, the State Department said.
“Until the government of Cuba can ensure the safety of our diplomats in Cuba, our embassy will be reduced to emergency personnel in order to minimize the number of diplomats at risk of exposure to harm,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement.
U.S. and congressional officials told Reuters on Thursday that Washington was crafting a plan for a drawdown of staff from the Havana embassy in response to the unexplained incidents.
The Cuban government has denied any role and is investigating. But it has so far said it has been unable to determine the cause.
A senior State Department official told reporters neither the U.S. nor Cuban governments had been able to identify who was responsible for the attacks but stressed that “the government of Cuba is responsible for taking all appropriate steps to prevent attacks on our diplomatic personnel in Cuba.”
The partial evacuation, while depicted as a safety measure, may send a message of U.S. displeasure over Cuba’s handling of the matter and deliver another blow to Obama’s policies of engagement with Cold War foe Cuba.
In a travel warning, the State Department bluntly said “because our personnel’s…