US Suspends Issuing Of Visas In Havana And Withdraws 60% Of Its Embassy Staff

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EFE / 14ymedio, Havana, 29 September 2017 — On Friday, the United States suspended indefinitely the issuance of visas to Cubans from its embassy in Havana and asked Americans not to travel to Cuba, insisting that it can not guarantee their security after the “attacks” suffered by at least 21 Americans stationed in the Island.

“Routine visa operations are suspended indefinitely,” at the US embassy in Havana, a senior State Department official, who asked to remain anonymous, told reporters.

Another spokeswoman for the State Department said that the family reunification program will also be affected, as the issuance of immigrant and nonimmigrant visas will be suspended.

The announcement by the US government has caught both Cubans living on the island and those living abroad by surprise. “No one understands what is happening,” says Adrián Núñez, a Cuban who arrived in Miami only two years ago and was engaged in the process to apply for a visa for his mother who lives in Cuba.

“We are looking at the possibility that people will be able to apply for visas at the embassy or consulates outside Cuba in other countries, but we have not made the final preparations yet,” said the State Department official.

The measure is a consequence of the State Department’s decision to withdraw all of its non-essential personnel from its embassy in Cuba, which accounts for “more than half” of its officials there, in response to alleged “acoustic” attacks on some of its diplomats on the island, for which the responsible party or parties are still unknown.

“Given that the safety of our personnel is at risk and that we can not identify the cause of the attacks, we believe that US citizens could also be at risk and warn them not to travel to Cuba,” said the official, who said some the attacks have occurred in hotels.

Despite this measure, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Friday that the United States will continue to work with the Cuban government in the investigation into the “attacks of unknown nature” suffered by its diplomats in Havana after announcing the withdrawal of more than half of its personnel in Cuba.

“Cuba has told us that it will continue to investigate these attacks, and we will continue to cooperate with them in this effort,” Tillerson said in a statement.

However, on Friday the Cuban government called the decision of the US administration “precipitous” and Josefina Vidal, Director General of the Department of the United States at the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs told the official media that the decision will affect the bilateral relationship, but said at the same time the Cuban Government will continue to engage in “active cooperation between the authorities of both countries.”

“For full clarification of the facts, it will be essential to have and to be able to count on the participation and effective involvement of the US authorities,” said Vidal, who broke the silence that the Cuban authorities maintained throughout the day in response to the decision announced by the US Department of State.

According to Tillerson, the decision to reduce the presence of officials in Havana has been taken to ensure the safety of the personnel, while maintaining that diplomatic relations with Cuba and the work done by the United States on the island will continue to be guided by the national security interests and foreign policy of the United States.

“Until the Cuban government can guarantee the safety of our diplomats in Cuba, our embassy will be reduced to emergency personnel, to minimize the number of diplomats who risk being exposed” to possible attacks, said the diplomatic chief.

Due to the reduction of personnel, the services provided by the US embassy in Havana will be limited to those that are “urgent,” according to the US administration.

The State Department has also decided to limit the travel of its officials to Cuba to “those involved in the investigation” of “attacks” on diplomatic personnel.

“The United States will not send official delegations to Cuba or schedule bilateral meetings in Cuba at the moment,” said the official, who added that meetings with the Cuban government could be scheduled in the United States.

Those measures will remain “until Cuba can guarantee the safety of US personnel” on the island, he added.

The United States does not directly blame the events on the Cuban government, at least for the moment, but it does believe that it is the responsibility of the executive, Raúl Castro, “to take all appropriate steps to prevent attacks” on US diplomats on the island.