State Dept. to pull staff from Havana embassy over mystery illnesses

Sept. 29 (UPI) — The United States will pull much of its staff from its embassy in Havana, Cuba, State Department sources said Friday — in connection to a mysterious incident on the island earlier this year.

Only essential personnel will be left, CBS News reported.

The departures of staff and family come after at least 21 people associated with the embassy developed mysterious health issues. The American Foreign Service Association reported in early September that symptoms include mild traumatic brain injury, permanent hearing loss, loss of balance, headaches and brain swelling.

An announcement about the drawdown could come from the State Department later Friday.

Cuban officials have denied any involvement in the incidents. In a statement earlier The Cuban Foreign Ministry said, “The Cuban government has never perpetrated nor will it ever perpetrate attacks of any kind against diplomats” in a statement earlier this week. “The Cuban government has never permitted nor will it ever permit the use of its territory by third parties for this purpose. There is no evidence so far of the cause or the origin of the health disorders reported by the U.S. diplomats.”

The statement came after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Eduardo Rodriguez Parrilla in Washington.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said that the conversation between Tillerson and Rodriguez Parilla was “firm and frank and reflected the United States’ profound concern for the safety and security of its diplomatic personnel.”

Tillerson considered closing the embassy but was persuaded to leave it open by the growing belief of U.S. officials that Cuba is not responsible for the health problems, The New York Times reported on Friday. It added that a senior U.S. official said the Cuban government is concerned over the circumstances and is eager to help solve the mystery.


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