Responding to a mysterious illness that has afflicted 22 U.S. government employees and their spouses in Cuba, the Trump administration has expelled 15 diplomats from the Cuban embassy in Washington, D.C.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday that United States expelled the diplomats to “ensure equity.” The State Department ordered 60 percent of the U.S. embassy staff in Havana to leave within seven days—which will result in a skeletal staff of 27 people—because 19 members and three of their spouses have become ill since last December. Symptoms include dizziness, hearing loss, headache, tinnitus, balance and visual problems, fatigue, cognitive issues and sleeping difficulties—and some of the problems appear to be permanent.
Some U.S. members have reported hearing odd sounds in their homes, causing experts to speculate that a sonic weapon or faulty surveillance device may have triggered the illnesses.
The Trump administration expelled two low-level Cuban diplomats in May due to the illnesses, but took the more forceful action this week because many more U.S. diplomats in Cuba have become ill.
The Cuban government expressed great concern about the illnesses, and an urgent need to find the cause. In a rare expression of openness, Cuba offered to let the FBI go to Havana to investigate. The FBI then investigated the embassy and homes of American diplomats, and reviewed security footage, but found nothing suspicious. The investigators weren’t able to duplicate in a lab the effects the ill diplomats have experienced.
State Department officials stressed that they are not accusing the Cuban government of complicity in the attacks. The fact that diplomats from Canada—which has strong relations with Cuba—in Havana also have suffered from the mysterious illness casts doubt on the notion that the Cuban government triggered the illness.
Tillerson said that the United States continues to maintain diplomatic relations with Cuba and will continue to cooperate with the nation in investigating the attacks. He also said, however, that the decision to expel Cuban diplomats from Washington, D.C., was made “due to Cuba’s failure to take appropriate steps to protect our diplomats in accordance with its obligations under the Geneva Convention.”
Some view the expulsions of Cuban diplomats from Washington, D.C., as yet another step in the Trump administration’s unraveling of the Obama administration’s rapprochement with Cuba, which has facilitated increased travel by Americans to the island nation and the hope of eventually holding many meetings and events there.