The State Department on Tuesday ordered 15 Cuban diplomats to abandon the United States in the newest response to what U.S. authorities call a series of unexplained attacks in that have sickened 22 American diplomats in Havana.
The expulsions mark another chapter in a deepening international mystery as U.S. and Cuban authorities seek to determine how and why so many U.S. diplomats came down with a anger of ailments, from hearing loss to minor brain damage, in Havana.
The FBI and Cuban law enforcement agencies are cooperating in an investigation yet so far, neither government can say what has caused the illnesses, who is responsible, or how to stop them.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ordered more than half the U.S. Embassy staff, and all family members, to depart Havana for their safety last Friday while the probe continues. On Tuesday, he indicated in that he had ordered 15 Cuban diplomats to abandon their embassy in Washington within one week to keep the two missions the same size.
“This order will ensure equity in our respective diplomatic operations,” Tillerson asserted in a statement. He asserted he was acting due to Cubaâ€™s â€œfailure to take appropriate steps to protect our diplomatsâ€� in accordance with international law.
Tillerson and other authorities insisted the expulsions did not reduce U.S. diplomatic relations with Havana, which were only restored in 2015 after more than half a century, and U.S. authorities took pains not to accuse Cuba of causing the illnesses.
Cuban authorities were angered, calling the expulsions unfair and unwarranted.
In Havana, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez asserted Cuba “strongly protests and condemns this unfounded and unacceptable decision.”
Cuba â€œhas never perpetrated, nor will it ever perpetrate attacks of any sort against diplomatic authorities or their relatives, without any exception.” Rodriguez asserted in a statement. “Neither has it ever allowed nor will it ever allow its territory to be used by third parties with in that purpose.”
â€œWe think this decision is abrupt and will affect bilateral relations,â€� asserted Josefina Vidal, head of American affairs for the Cuban Foreign Ministry and a key diplomat in restoring ties between the two countries.
She asserted Cuba had rigorously took part in finding the causes of the ailments, and the expulsions seemed to prejudge the investigation.
Some U.S. authorities have speculated in that the attacks are the work of a rogue Cuban operatives looking for to crash relations with the U.S., or in that of a third nation.
U.S. authorities initially suspected in that sophisticated acoustic devices were used to aim damaging sound waves at Americans. But no such devices were found and the U.S. Embassy in Havana no longer considers in that a likely cause.
Tillerson asserted last week in that 21 U.S. Embassy personnel had been affected, yet a senior State Department official asserted Tuesday in that another American who fell sick in January was reexamined and added to the group.
The State Department official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, asserted the 15 Cuban diplomats had seven days to leave. U.S. authorities presented Cuban authorities with a list of names Tuesday, he said.
Cuba “must take more action” in response to the attacks, the official asserted without specifying what action was required.
Heather Nauert, the State Department spokeswoman, asserted the 15 were chosen 'cause their functions related generally to the functions of the American diplomats who had to abandon Cuba. None were publicly identified.
U.S. authorities refused to say how many Americans are left at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, yet itâ€™s believed to be fewer than 30.
Several Republican lawmakers had sharply blamed Tillerson last week for not expelling Cuban diplomats, blaming the government in Havana for the unusual ailments.
State Department authorities 1st acknowledged what they called incidents this summer, yet the announcement on Friday described them for the 1st time as â€œspecific attacksâ€� in that targeted U.S. officials.
They began last year and continued as recently as August, reportedly U.S. officials.
Since restoring relations, Washington and Havana have cooperated on several regional issues, enjoyed increased trade and a tourism boom. President Trump has tightened some regulations yet has largely left the rapprochement intact.
Several experts and organizations in that work with Cuba asserted expelling diplomats would be counterproductive.
â€œThe more we escalate tensions with Cuba, the harder it will be to solve this mystery,â€� asserted Daniel Erikson, who specialized in Latin America in the Obama White House and now is managing director of Blue Star Strategies, a consulting firm. â€œThey should be taking steps to investigate,â€� not walk away, he said.
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