State Department expels 15 Cuban diplomats over health attacks on US Embassy personnel in Havana

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration has ordered the expulsion of 15 Cuban diplomats from Washington over the next week in response to unexplained “attacks” that have sickened 22 American officials posted in Havana.

The expulsions are the latest development in a mysterious series of incidents that have affected U.S. diplomats in Cuba, including hearing loss and minor brain damage.

Neither U.S. nor Cuban officials have been able to explain the cause of the illnesses, and the FBI and Cuban law enforcement agencies are cooperating in an investigation.

“The decision was made due to Cuba’s failure to take appropriate steps to protect our diplomats in accordance with its obligations under the Vienna Convention,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement. “This order will ensure equity in our respective diplomatic operations.”

Expelling Cuban diplomats does not reflect an assignment of blame, a senior State Department official told reporters ahead of the announcement.

But, the official said, Cuba must be held accountable for protecting American diplomats.

The U.S. “needs full assurances from the Cuban government that these attacks will not continue,” the official said.

The expulsions bring the level of Cuban diplomatic staff in Washington closer to the number of personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, the official said.

Last week, the Trump administration ordered more than half of the U.S. Embassy staff and family members to depart Cuba because of the mysterious ailments. The staff already was reduced because of hurricane warnings, and officials did not say how many people subsequently left the country.

Washington and Havana re-established full diplomatic ties just two years ago after half a century of hostilities. Speculation on the cause of the attacks has focused on a rogue operation by Cuban operatives or the work of a third nation.

President Raul Castro has reportedly expressed alarm at the series of incidents, and Cuba’s foreign minister told Tillerson in a meeting last week that his country was not involved in the attacks and was trying to find the culprits. —Tribune News Service

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