US Cuba: Washington expels diplomats over 'acoustic attacks'

10/05/2017 03:00 |

US Cuba: Washington expels diplomats over 'acoustic attacks'

The United States yesterday 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. "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", Tillerson said.

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

The decision is aimed at keeping parity in staffing levels after the USA ordered more than half its diplomats and their families to leave the island September 29 following the unexplained incidents, which left staff with hearing loss, cognitive issues and difficulty sleeping, a State Department official, who asked not to be identified, briefed reporters. The attacks caused the USA employees to experience hearing loss, ear-ringing, dizziness, difficulty sleeping, headaches and cognitive problems, among other symptoms.

"As American diplomatic personnel continue to come under attack in Havana, I commend the U.S. State Department for expelling a number of Cuban operatives from the U.S.", Rubio said. Bruno Rodriguez told reporters in Havana that the acting in a, quote, "hasty and unthinking way".

In Havana, the US had roughly 54 diplomats in its embassy until deciding Friday to pull more than half of them out and leave behind only "essential personnel".

The investigation started in February, and intelligence experts told one of the congressional intelligence committees that ultrasound, infrared, or even Xray machines could have been used in the attacks, but they also said they were not sure about that information.

"The United States will not send official delegations to Cuba or conduct bilateral meetings in Cuba for the time being".

JIMENEZ: This is going to complicate and slow down any of our bilateral cooperation just simply based on the fact that there will be an insufficient number of people at the - at the Cuban Embassy here in do very basic things like process visas or meet with US businesspeople interested in doing business on the island.

The administration kicked out two diplomats in May due to the illnesses, but officials made a decision to add more as the list of those affected continues to grow. Cuba has not commented on Tuesday's announcement.

Tillerson and other officials insisted the expulsions did not reduce US diplomatic relations with Havana, which were restored only in 2015 after more than half a century, and USA officials took pains to not accuse Cuba of causing the illnesses.

US officials had previously refrained from calling it "attacks", instead using the vague language of "incidents". To date, the Trump administration largely described the victims as U.S. Embassy personnel or “members of the diplomatic community, ” suggesting it was bona fide diplomats who were hit.

But an official says the decision was taken because Cuba has failed to protect American diplomats on its soil.

Last week, the U.S. claimed not to know the methods, means and manner of attacks on its diplomats.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and other US policymakers struggled deeply with how to respond to the attacks, Trump administration officials said.

The US State Department was expected to announce the decision as soon as Tuesday, said US media citing the anonymous officials who were familiar with the plan.

"The Cuban government has never allowed and will never allow third parties to use its territory for such measures", he said, adding that his country is ready to continue active cooperation with the United States in investigating its concerns.

In a meeting with Tillerson on Tuesday, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez denied that Cuba's involvement in attacks on diplomats and said the US was politicizing the incidents, according to CNN.

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He added: "It appears that the entire incident is being blown up by Rubio and his accomplices who have repeatedly called for an ending of diplomatic relations with Cuba, a halt to USA travel to the island and a return to overtly aggressive policies".

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