The U.S. embassy in Cuba will be forced to undergo a 60% reduction in staff, following State Department orders this week for “nonessential” personnel and their families to return home. The State Department issued the orders while it investigates mysterious injuries that 21 embassy personnel suffered from sonic attacks.
“The decision to reduce our diplomatic presence in Havana was made to ensure the safety of our personnel,” said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in a written statement. “We maintain diplomatic relations with Cuba, and our work in Cuba continues to be guided by the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States.”
The decision will effectively put visa-processing services for Americans or Cubans at the embassy on indefinite hold. Sources told CNN that the move is another major blow to the embassy’s operability, which is already on greatly reduced status because of flooding damage to the embassy during Hurricane Irma.
The Cuban government has denied any involvement in the attacks, which caused some victims to suffer long-term hearing loss. Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez met with Tillerson Tuesday and told him that the United States is “politicizing” the issue and that the Cuban government would work with its U.S. counterparts to determine the cause of the attack.
The State Department also issued a travel warning to all Americans not to travel to Cuba. Tourists could be at risk of some of the same attacks that occurred to embassy staff, an agency official told reporters. One senior U.S. official said that he also expects the agency to ask the Cuban embassy in Washington to reduce its staff, as well.