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News > Science and Tech

US Reduces Embassy Staff in Cuba, Citing 'Health Concerns'

  • The embassy will now be considered an unaccompanied post, meaning diplomats will be forced to leave their families behind.

    The embassy will now be considered an unaccompanied post, meaning diplomats will be forced to leave their families behind. | Photo: Reuters

Published 2 March 2018

Frayed bilateral relations have become more strained as scientists struggle to justify the diplomats' claims of so-called "sonic attacks."

The United States embassy in Havana, Cuba, is downsizing its staff by over 60 percent in response to ongoing "health concerns," the U.S. Department of State has announced.


Cuba: Raul Castro Meets US Lawmakers Probing ‘Sonic Attacks’

In a statement released Friday, the department said: "The embassy will continue to operate with the minimum personnel necessary to perform core diplomatic and consular functions, similar to the level of emergency staffing maintained during ordered departure."

The embassy will now be considered an unaccompanied post, meaning diplomats will be forced to leave their families behind when they assume their duties across the Gulf of Mexico.

The department also renewed its Cuba travel warning on Friday, saying U.S. travelers could be at risk following mysterious so-called "sonic attacks."

The warning will deal a blow to U.S. tourism companies and the Caribbean island's fledgling private sector, which had benefited from a boom in visits by U.S. tourists.

The recent decisions arise from incidents in 2016 and 2017, when at least 24 diplomats and their family members claimed they suffered headaches, ear pain, vertigo, disorientation and other symptoms consistent with a mild traumatic brain injury or concussion.

US Congressmen Arrive in Cuba to Address 'Sonic Attacks'

Over the last few months, the frayed relations between Cuba and its northern neighbor have only become more strained as scientists struggle to justify politicians' allegations of deliberate "sonic attacks."

"U.S.-Cuban relations have become trapped in a geopolitical quagmire over the embassy health mystery," Cuba analyst Peter Kornbluh told Reuters.

"After a year of intense investigation on both sides that has failed to identify what has caused the health problems, it is hard to see how this impasse will be resolved."

A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) suggests that despite the claims of injuries to "widespread brain networks," sounds "in the audible range are not known to cause injury to the central nervous system."

The report concludes it's unlikely any "chemical agent” would cause the "neurological manifestations" described by the delegation of U.S. and Canadian politicians.

No Evidence of 'Sonic Attacks' in Cuba: US Senator Flake

Another recent theory, from a team of Midwestern scientists at the University of Michigan, is that the "attacks" could have been the result of a bungled attempt at espionage.

According to Associate Professor Kevin Fu, a combination of ultrasonic signals would create an audible and dangerous tone similar to those described by the diplomats.

"We have demonstrated a scenario in which the damage could have been unintentional, a byproduct of a poorly constructed ultrasound emitter that was meant to be secret," Fu said.

"A malfunction of the device that was supposed to steal information or spy on conversations with an ultrasonic transmission seems more plausible than a sonic weapon. That said, our results do not rule out other potential causes."

U.S. President Donald Trump has taken a tough stance on Cuba, tightening trade sanctions and ordering travel restrictions that harken back to the Cold War era just as Cuba embarks on a major political transition.

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