U.S. warns to avoid Cuba
Government recalls most diplomats from Havana
WASHINGTON — The United States issued an ominous warning to Americans on Friday to stay away from Cuba and ordered home more than half the U.S. diplomatic corps, acknowledging neither the Cubans nor America’s FBI can figure out who or what is responsible for months of mysterious health ailments.
No longer tiptoeing around the issue, the Trump administration shifted to calling the episodes “attacks” rather than “incidents.”
The U.S. actions are sure to rattle already delicate ties between the longtime adversaries who only recently began putting their hostility behind them. The U.S. Embassy in Cuba will lose roughly 60 percent of its American staff and will stop processing visas for prospective Cuban travelers to the United States indefinitely, officials said. Roughly 50 Americans had been working at the embassy.
President Donald Trump said that in Cuba “they did some very bad things” that harmed U.S. diplomats, but he didn’t say who he might mean by “they.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who reviewed options for a response with Trump, 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.”
In Friday’s travel warning, the State Department confirmed earlier reporting by The Associated Press that U.S. personnel first encountered unexplained physical effects in Cuban hotels. While American tourists aren’t known to have been hurt, the agency said they could be exposed if they travel to the island — a pronouncement that could hit a critical component of Cuba’s economy that has expanded in recent years as the U.S. has relaxed restrictions.
At least 21 diplomats and family members have been affected. The department said symptoms include hearing loss, dizziness, headache, fatigue, cognitive issues and difficulty sleeping. Until Friday, the U.S. had generally referred to “incidents.” Tillerson’s statement ended that practice, mentioning “attacks” seven times; the travel alert used the word five times.
Still, the administration has pointedly not blamed Cuba for perpetrating the attacks, and officials have spent weeks weighing how to minimize the risk for Americans in Cuba without unnecessarily harming relations or falling into an adversary’s trap.