HAVANA – The Cuban government said on Friday that the United States had acted hastily in ordering the departure of all non-emergency staff assigned to its embassy in Havana – as well as all family members of embassy personnel – and in deciding to stop issuing visas on the island.
The Cuban Foreign Ministry’s head of US affairs, Josefina Vidal, told the media Friday that the decision would affect bilateral relations, although she underscored Havana’s willingness to continue to promote active cooperation between both countries’ governments.
“Fully clearing up these incidents will require the participation and involvement of US authorities,” Vidal said.
She said the US government’s order would particularly harm cooperation on issues of mutual interest and diverse exchanges taking place between Cuba and the US.
Vidal recalled that Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met Tuesday in Washington and discussed the mysterious attacks that had harmed at least 21 Americans, including both diplomatic personnel and their family members.
“Our minister advised (Tillerson) not to make any hasty decisions not backed by evidence or conclusive results from investigations,” Vidal said.
During the meeting, she said Cuba asked the US not to politicize the matter and requested its active cooperation in clearing up the incidents.
“The Cuban government bears no responsibility at all for these alleged incidents and it rigorously complies with its obligations under the Vienna Convention concerning the protection of diplomats,” Vidal said.
Earlier Friday, Tillerson issued a statement saying that the US State Department had ordered the departure of non-emergency personnel at the embassy and all family members of embassy staff.
He noted that 21 individuals associated with the embassy had been harmed by “attacks of an unknown nature” and had exhibited symptoms including “hearing loss, dizziness, headache, fatigue, cognitive issues and difficulty sleeping.”
The attacks were known to have occurred at US diplomatic residences and hotels frequented by American citizens, according to the State Department.
Although the department said it had not received reports of private American citizens being affected, it said that as a precautionary measure it had issued a Travel Warning advising US citizens to avoid visiting the Communist-ruled island.
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.
Friday’s moves come amid a cooling of bilateral 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.
In his statement, 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 (them).”
The secretary of state said 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.”