In early August, reports indicated that over 20 U.S. diplomats mysteriously suffered symptoms such as severe hearing loss and nausea in Cuba after being targeted for surveillance. Further inspection revealed that the diplomats’ afflictions included brain injuries due to “sonic attacks” during said surveillance. After a review, the State Department has decided to pull all of its nonessential personnel (that is, more than half) from Cuba. Further, the U.S. will stop issuing visas within the country, “effective immediately.”
The visa component of the order will continue indefinitely, and Havana will see an embassy staff reduction of approximately 60%. The U.S. hasn’t yet discovered who is behind the attacks on diplomats (the Cuban government has denied all involvement), so (and this is notable) the State Department will also urge civilians to avoid traveling to Cuba, since a number of the attacks went down in hotels used by tourists.
CNN has more on the number of attacks — up to 50 of them — that have taken place, along with other concerns from diplomats:
U.S. officials say there may have been as many as 50 attacks, a senior US official told CNN, the most recent in August. Some victims have had long lasting symptoms and, in at least one case, permanent hearing loss.
Despite the harassment, some U.S. diplomats told CNN they did not want to depart, saying the reductions likely played into the hands of whoever was behind the attacks and would leave the embassy understaffed during a crucial period where Raul Castro is expected to step down as president of Cuba.
The symptoms reported by diplomats began to occur shortly after Obama’s historic 2016 visit to Havana while he worked to normalize and repair diplomatic relations between the two countries. This led to relaxed travel guidelines aimed at boosting both countries’ economies through tourism and the sale of cigars, rum, and the like. However, these renewed diplomatic ties could soon be erased following the attacks on U.S. personnel, although the State Department vows to get to the bottom of the matter.