US expels 2 Cuban diplomats over mysterious ‘physical symptoms’ reported by US personnel
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert has not elaborated on the nature of the reported incidents or the symptoms, except to say that they were not life threatening and that the matter is under investigation.
The incidents resulted in a “variety of physical symptoms,” prompting some US government personnel to leave the island, Nauert said at the State Department’s press briefing on Wednesday.
American embassy personnel in Cuba returned to US “for medical reasons”. US asked Cuban personnel to leave US, "but it's not reciprocity" pic.twitter.com/KLm3O9kH4v— RT America (@RT_America) August 9, 2017
She added that the State Department first heard about them in late 2016, and asked the Cuban diplomats in Washington to leave in May, which they did.
While the State Department has refused to publicly give details of the reported incidents, US officials speaking on condition of anonymity told AP that the symptoms that US embassy staffers in Cuba reported included loss of hearing.
Investigators were looking into whether elements of the Cuban government placed sonic devices that produce non-audible sound inside or outside the residences of roughly five US Embassy staffers with the intent of deafening them, AP cited one unnamed official as saying.
Late Wednesday, Cuba stated that it has opened an investigation into the US accusations from the US Embassy in Havana.
"Cuba has never, nor would it ever, allow that the Cuban territory be used for any action against accredited diplomatic agents or their families," the Foreign Ministry said, according to Reuters. "It reiterates its willingness to cooperate in the clarification of this situation."
The staffers arrived in Havana in the summer of 2016, AP reported. Like all foreign diplomats in Cuba, they lived in housing owned and maintained by the Cuban government.
The affected diplomats and their spouses began to experience symptoms of hearing loss so severe that an investigation was launched, and it was determined that they were at risk, the unnamed officials told AP.
“The Department has reminded the Cuban government of its obligations under the Vienna Convention to protect our diplomats,” Nauert said at the briefing on Wednesday. “The Department is taking these incidents very seriously and is working to determine the cause and impact of the incidents. The Cuban government has assured us that it is also investigating and taking appropriate measures.”
There has been no immediate official reaction from Cuba.
The US and Cuba reestablished diplomatic relations two years ago under then-President Barack Obama.
Washington and Havana had been estranged ever since President John F. Kennedy cut ties with Cuba and imposed an embargo on the island in 1961.
Last year, President Obama traveled to Cuba, looking to warm the long-frozen relations with the Communist-run island.
In June, President Trump said he was reversing “the last administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba.”
He reimposed some restrictions on travel to Cuba, but left the newly-established embassies in Washington and Havana open “in the hope that our countries can forge a much stronger and better path,” he said in June, adding that he will “expose the crimes of the Castro regime.”
Cuba fired back, saying: “The United States is not in a position to give us lessons” on human rights, adding that the new restrictions “are doomed to fail, as it was the case in the past.”