WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Trump administration on Tuesday ordered the expulsion of 15 diplomats from Cuba’s embassy in Washington following last week’s U.S. move to pull more than half of its own diplomats out of Havana, a State Department official said.
The U.S. decisions were based on the Cuban government’s failure to do enough to protect American personnel in Cuba who have been targeted in mysterious “attacks” that have damaged their health, the official told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity. The Cuban diplomats have been given seven days to leave.
The steps being taken by President Donald Trump’s administration mark a further blow to his predecessor Barack Obama’s policy of rapprochement between Washington and Havana, former Cold War foes.
Several Cuban-American Republican lawmakers, including U.S Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, had urged that Cuban diplomats be expelled in retaliation for the Cuban government’s failure to get to the bottom of the attacks.
Trump administration officials planned to brief lawmakers on their Cuba policy on Tuesday, another congressional aide said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
AT LEAST 21 U.S. EMBASSY STAFFERS AFFECTED
The State Department announced on Friday that in addition to drawing down staff in Havana to essential personnel, the embassy was halting regular visa operations for Cubans seeking to visit the United States and would offer only emergency services to U.S. citizens.
At least 21 U.S. embassy employees in Cuba have been injured and reported symptoms such as hearing loss, dizziness, headache, fatigue, cognitive issues, and difficulty sleeping, the State Department said on Friday.
Cuba’s Foreign Ministry Chief for U.S. Affairs Josefina Vidal said last week that the U.S. decision to reduce staff at its Havana embassy was hasty and will affect bilateral relations,
Cuba, the United States and Canada have investigated the attacks, but the probe has not yielded any answers about how they were carried out or who was responsible for them.
Cuba has denied involvement in the attacks. The State Department has not directly blamed Havana for them but asked two Cuban diplomats to leave Washington in May.
The U.S. measures will stop short of breaking off relations or closing the two countries’embassies, which reopened in 2015 following more than five decades of hostility.
But the bizarre case has brought simmering U.S.-Cuba tensions since Trump took office to a boil.
Trump, who in June vowed to partially roll back the detente with Cuba agreed by his Democratic predecessor Obama, called the Cuban government “corrupt and destabilising” in his address to the United Nations General Assembly last month.
He said he would not lift the U.S. trade embargo on the Caribbean island until it made “fundamental reforms.” Cuba described his comments as “unacceptable and meddling.”