The government of Cuba has denied any wrongdoing after facing charges from Washington that U.S. embassy staff in Havana fell ill with unspecified symptoms while working in the country, resulting in their departure from the Caribbean nation.
Earlier in the day, the U.S. Department of State made a vague statement insinuating foul play by the government of Cuba.
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"We first heard of these incidents back in late 2016," State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said. "Some U.S. government personnel who were working at our embassy in Havana, Cuba … reported some incidents which have caused a variety of physical symptoms. We don’t have any definitive answers about the source or the cause of what we consider to be incidents."
According to Havana, the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs was notified by Washington on February 17, after which the island’s government promptly responded speedily and professionally, launching a “thorough, priority and urgent investigation by indication of the highest level of the Cuban government” while proposing the establishment of a cooperation mechanism between the two countries.
“The Cuban authorities established an interagency committee of experts for the analysis of the facts; extended and strengthened security and safety measures for headquarters, staff and diplomatic residences, and enabled new channels of direct communication between the Embassy and the Department of Diplomatic Security,” the statement from the Cuban Foreign Ministry said.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs reaffirms that Cuba complies strictly and seriously with its obligations under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 regarding the protection of the integrity of diplomatic agents and the premises of the mission,” the ministry added. “The impeccable performance of our country in this area is internationally recognized, and Cuba is universally considered a safe destination for foreign visitors and diplomats, including the Americans.”
Relations between the United States and Cuba were unfrozen in 2015 by U.S. then-President Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart, Raul Castro. The rapprochement was rolled back by Obama’s successor Donald Trump who in June announced tightened rules for Americans traveling to Cuba, reaffirming the existing U.S. trade blockade while reinstating Washington’s agenda of “regime change” toward Havana.
The White House policy reversal was backed by right-wing Republican politicians like Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Mario Diaz-Balart, along with other members of a shrinking Cuban exile community in South Florida that remains bent on overthrowing Cuba’s socialist government. At the time, Rubio noted that the policy change is meant to set back those advocating for the lifting of the 56-year-old blockade against Cuba.
Trump’s justification of the partial reversal included a recap of Washington’s oft-stated human rights allegations against the government, and the claim that the easing of restrictions hasn’t had the desired “regime change” effects desired by anti-Cuban elements on Capitol Hill.
The Cuban government has long faced human rights allegations from the White House for its rejection of Washington’s dictates in the field of politics, economy, social policy and foreign relations.