Oct. 3 (UPI) — Fifteen diplomats were expelled from Cuba’s Washington embassy on Tuesday, a response to a mysterious illness which reduced the U.S. presence in its Havana embassy.
Only 27 people now work at the Havana embassy. At issue is a condition at the embassy causing permanent hearing loss and possible brain damage to embassy personnel. The U.S. State Department said at least 22 embassy staff have been injured while on duty. It remains unclear who or what is responsible for the illnesses.
The White House has not blamed Cuba for the mysterious events, but has repeatedly stated that Cuba bears responsibility for ending them. The State Department also expelled two Cuban diplomats in May over the incidents.
Tuesday’s reduction in Cuba’s workforce in Washington will ensure that “we have equitable staffing levels” between Cuba and the United States, a State Department official said. The Cuban diplomats were given seven days to leave Washington.
The State Department official said diplomatic ties between the two countries, established during former President Barack Obama‘s administration, remain intact. The official added, though, that a full U.S. presence in Havana depends on “full assurances” from Cuba of U.S. personnel safety.
Since the start of the illnesses, the administration of President Donald Trumphas stopped issuing visas to Cuban citizens hoping to visit the United States and issued a travel warning to U.S. citizens visiting Cuba.