Following suspected auditory attacks on 21 US diplomats in Havana from mid-2016 through August 2017, the US State Department announced on Friday, September 29, that it will withdraw all non-emergency diplomatic personnel (roughly 60 percent of US diplomatic staff) and their families from Cuba. The timetable for the diplomatic withdrawal is not known at this time. As a result, the US will only maintain emergency personnel in Havana to maintain critical services for US citizens. US visa services for Cuban citizens will be indefinitely suspended due to the reduction in personnel.
Additionally, the US issued a travel warning on Friday urging American citizens to avoid travel to Cuba in light of these apparent attacks. Although US citizens are not believed to be generally targeted, authorities judged that they may be at risk because some of the attacks against the diplomats took place at hotels where Americans sometimes stay. Although US authorities have been careful to issue assurances that diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba will be maintained, increased political and diplomatic tensions between the two countries are expected in the coming weeks as the investigation into the suspected auditory attacks, and the removal of US diplomatic personnel, continues.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson released a statement on September 29 detailing that the 21 US Embassy employees in Cuba suffered several different types of injuries related to the suspected attacks over the last several months, including hearing loss, dizziness, headache, cognitive issues, fatigue, and difficulty sleeping. As of September 29, it is not known what precisely caused these attacks, or which entity is perpetrating them. The Cuban government agreed to continue in its efforts to investigate the suspected attacks on US diplomatic personnel with the US, and denied that Cuban officials or a third party had committed such attacks.
The US diplomatic withdrawal comes after a political rapprochement between the two countries that began under the tenure of US President Barack Obama in 2014; the so-called "Cuban thaw" resulted in the normalization of relations between the two countries and the easing of travel restrictions which, for the first time in over 50 years, allowed direct flights between the two countries and US cruise ships to visit Cuba.
Individuals in Cuba are advised to monitor ongoing developments to the situation, avoid all protests, and confirm travel plans and visa requirements with relevant authorities.
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