Cuban government: US expulsion of diplomats 'reckless'

Cuban government: US expulsion of diplomats 'reckless'
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The Cuban government said Thursday that the United States' decision to expel 15 Cuban diplomats from the country's embassy in Washington was "reckless" and "hasty," warning of increasingly strained relations between the two countries.

In a news conference hours after Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonHillicon Valley — Blinken unveils new cyber bureau at State Blinken formally announces new State Department cyber bureau Hillicon Valley — TikTok, Snapchat seek to distance themselves from Facebook MORE ordered Havana to withdraw 15 of its diplomats from Washington, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez criticized the U.S. response to mysterious attacks on its diplomatic staff in Havana and insisted that the Cuban government has fulfilled its obligation to protect American envoys, according to The Associated Press.

Rodriguez also accused the U.S. of politicizing the so-called health incidents and warned of strained relations between Washington and Havana as a result.

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The announcement on Tuesday that the U.S. would expel Cuban diplomats from Washington came four days after the Trump administration said it would withdraw about 60 percent of U.S. employees from its embassy in Havana amid growing concerns over the incidents.

The suspected attacks on U.S. diplomats began in the fall of 2016 and appeared to stop in March of this year. But the State Department revealed earlier this month that they continued as recently as August. So far, 22 cases have been confirmed. 

Among the symptoms experienced by affected diplomats are hearing loss, headaches, trouble sleeping and balancing difficulties. 

Tillerson said on Friday that the Cuban government had not provided a guarantee that it would step up measures to protect U.S. envoys in Havana and that a personnel drawdown there was necessary to protect Americans. 

The decision on Tuesday to expel the Cuban diplomats from Washington was not meant as a punitive measure, a State Department official said, but was instead intended to maintain "equitable staffing levels" between the two countries.

The Cuban diplomats ordered to leave Washington were not labeled persona non grata — a designation that would prevent them from ever returning to the U.S. The State Department has also emphasized that diplomatic relations with Cuba will remain in place.

Still, the Cuban government chafed at the move, reiterating on Tuesday that it is not responsible for the attacks and that it has cooperated with U.S. authorities as they investigate the matter. The Cuban government also said that American investigators have been allowed to work on the ground in the country for the first time in more than 50 years to look into the incidents.

"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs categorically rejects any responsibility of the Cuban Government in the alleged incidents and reiterates once again that Cuba has never perpetrated, nor will it ever perpetrate attacks of any sort against diplomatic officials or their relatives, without any exception," the Cuban Foreign Ministry said in a statement Tuesday. "Neither has it ever allowed nor will it ever allow its territory to be used by third parties with that purpose."