On October 3, the U.S. State Department ordered the expulsion of 15 Cuban diplomats from the island’s Embassy in Washington, just a week after the Cuban government urged the U.S. to avoid making hasty decisions.
According to a senior State Department official, the measure is related to the reported health issues experienced by members of the U.S. Foreign Service in Havana, but noted that the move does not signify a change of policy toward the island or that the U.S. government is accusing Havana of responsibility for the alleged acts.
In an October 3 press statement, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson said “We continue to maintain diplomatic relations with Cuba,” but noted that the expulsion was “due to Cuba’s failure to take appropriate steps to protect our diplomats.”
Mr. Tillerson went on to explain that the measure will also “ensure equity in our respective diplomatic operations,” after the U.S. announced its decision to withdraw half of its diplomatic staff from its Embassy in Havana, September 29.
This most recent action as well as those taken last week come even though the State Department has recognized that investigators have been able to determine the cause of, or those responsible for, the acts, described by Washington as “attacks” although a definitive conclusion is yet to be reached.
According to remarks made by Tillerson on September 29, 2017, “21 U.S. Embassy employees have suffered a variety of injuries from attacks of an unknown nature.”
The State Department official went on to note that “Cuba has told us it will continue to investigate these attacks and we will continue to cooperate with them in this effort,” noting that the U.S. government will continue to conduct its own investigations “until the matter is resolved.”
Following last Friday’s announcement, director general for the United States at Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Josefina Vidal, described the decision as “ill-advised,” noting that it “will affect bilateral relations, in particular, cooperation on issues of mutual interest.”
Vidal stressed that the Cuban government is not responsible in any way for the acts and that it rigorously fulfills its obligations according to the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations in terms of protecting the physical integrity of accredited diplomatic agents in the country and their family members, without exception.
During a meeting with Tillerson on September 26, shortly before the U.S. announced its decision to withdraw its personnel from Havana, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez urged the Secretary of State not to politicize the matter or make hasty decisions which are not based on evidence or the conclusive results of investigations.
Meanwhile, the State Department’s actions have been described as excessive by many in and outside of the U.S. who have also warned of the threat they pose to the normalization of relations between the two countries.
Senators and Congresspeople, business and transport groups, former diplomats and analysts have all criticized the position taken by the administration of Donald Trump who, on June 16 of this year, announced measures reversing some of the progress made between the two nations up until that point.
Various sources have warned that such measures only benefit figures like Cuban-American Senator Marco Rubio, a staunch opponent of rapprochement between Havana and Washington, who on September 29, described the State Department’s failure to expel Cuban diplomats from the U.S. as “weak and unacceptable.” (PL)