Cuban diplomats ordered to leave the US

Cuban diplomats ordered to leave the US

The Trump administration has ordered the expulsion of 15 Cuban diplomats after pulling more than half of its own embassy staff out of Havana last week, further escalating tensions between the United States and Cuba.

Key points:

  • The diplomats were expelled to achieve 'equitable staffing' in each embassy
  • The US warned citizens not to visit Cuba because of many 'mysterious attacks'
  • Cuba has denied involvement in the attacks

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the latest decision was made due to Cuba's "failure to take appropriate steps" to protect American personnel in Cuba who have been targeted in mysterious "attacks" that have damaged their health.

The steps being taken by President Donald Trump's administration mark another blow to his predecessor, Barack Obama's, policy of rapprochement between Washington and Havana, former Cold War foes.

A State Department official said the number of expulsions was selected to make sure the US and Cuban embassies would have "equitable staffing levels" while investigations continued into the unexplained "health attacks".

The US decision to expel a large portion of Cuban staff at the embassy was communicated to Cuban ambassador Jose Ramon Cabanas on Tuesday, and the diplomats were given seven days to leave, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The move followed an announcement on Friday that the United States was sharply reducing its diplomatic presence in Cuba as it warned US citizens not to visit because of attacks that have caused hearing loss, dizziness and fatigue in US embassy personnel.

"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," Mr Tillerson said in a statement.

"We continue to maintain diplomatic relations with Cuba, and will continue to cooperate with Cuba as we pursue the investigation into these attacks," he added.

The number of American diplomats confirmed to have suffered symptoms has increased to 22, the State Department official said.

The official maintained that despite the US moves, Washington was not assigning "culpability" to Cuba's Communist Government.

Cuba has denied involvement in the attacks and is conducting an investigation.

Mr Trump, who in June vowed to partially roll back the detente with Cuba, called the Cuban Government "corrupt and destabilising" in his address to the United Nations General Assembly last month.

Cuba described his comments as "unacceptable and meddling".

In Havana, US diplomats have been frantically selling off their belongings at garage sales and on social media.

Many said they had chosen to stay despite the risks involved so were disappointed to be ordered to leave.

In a bittersweet message posted on Facebook, the embassy's top official, career diplomat Scott Hamilton, said he would also be leaving.

"I am an optimist and hope we will return one day, before too long," he wrote.