WASHINGTON – The United States ordered on Friday the withdrawal of all non-essential personnel assigned to its embassy in Cuba’s capital, as well as all family members, an action taken after at least 21 American diplomats showed symptoms of apparent sonic attacks, the secretary of state said.
The measure, which applies to more than half of embassy staff, is aimed at reducing the number of US personnel at risk of being exposed to the attacks, Rex Tillerson said in a statement on the State Department’s Web site.
The staff reduction will be in effect until Cuba can guarantee the safety of US personnel on the island, he added.
“Over the past several months, 21 US Embassy employees have suffered a variety of injuries from attacks of an unknown nature. The affected individuals have exhibited a range of physical symptoms, including ear complaints, hearing loss, dizziness, headache, fatigue, cognitive issues and difficulty sleeping,” the statement read.
Tillerson did not blame Cuba’s government for the attacks, saying that investigators “have been unable to determine who is responsible or what is causing these attacks.”
The State Department also has issued a travel warning advising American citizens to avoid travel to Cuba.
“We have no reports that private US citizens have been affected, but the attacks are known to have occurred in US diplomatic residences and hotels frequented by US citizens,” the statement said.
In conjunction with the staff reductions, the US also has indefinitely stopped issuing visas to Cubans from its embassy in Havana and halted all non-emergency services.
The Cuban government, for its part, said it was conducting an investigation but that at the moment there was no evidence supporting allegations of sonic attacks targeting Americans on the island.
The decision comes amid a cooling of diplomatic relations since the January inauguration of President Donald Trump, who has undone some of the liberalization that took place under predecessor Barack Obama and vowed to make closer ties with the island contingent on free elections and respect for human rights.
But Tillerson noted in his statement that the US maintains diplomatic relations with Havana, adding that “Cuba has told us it will continue to investigate these attacks and we will continue to cooperate with them in this effort.”