State Department Expels 15 Cuban Diplomats The order to cut staff at the Cuban embassy comes a few days after the U.S. embassy in Havana downsized dramatically after attacks caused serious health problems for American officials in Cuba.
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State Department Expels 15 Cuban Diplomats

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State Department Expels 15 Cuban Diplomats

State Department Expels 15 Cuban Diplomats

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The U.S. is expelling 15 Cuban diplomats. That's more than half of Cuba's diplomatic staff here in Washington. The move is the latest fallout from mysterious attacks that have caused health problems for Americans working at the U.S. Embassy in Cuba. NPR's Michele Kelemen has more.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: The State Department isn't blaming Cuba for the attacks, nor is the U.S. breaking diplomatic ties. But State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert says Cuba is responsible for protecting embassy officials.

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HEATHER NAUERT: Cuba is not living up to that. We cannot continue to allow our personnel to serve in Cuba when they are very clearly in harm's way.

KELEMEN: She now says 22 Americans have suffered health problems ranging from hearing loss to trouble sleeping, though investigators have not figured out who or what is causing this.

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NAUERT: The most recent attack was in the month of August. So we need to keep probing and figuring out what on earth has been going on.

KELEMEN: To limit the exposure of Americans, the U.S. ordered more than half of its embassy staff home. And now it's demanding the same of Cuba's embassy, giving them a list of 15 diplomats who must leave within seven days. Cuba's foreign minister called it unjustified. Bruno Rodriguez told reporters in Havana that the U.S. is acting in a, quote, "hasty and unthinking way."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BRUNO RODRIGUEZ: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs categorically rejects any responsibility of the Cuban government in the alleged incidents.

KELEMEN: Cuba's critics in Washington, including Senator Marco Rubio, say it's ridiculous to think that Cubans didn't know what was happening. Rubio says it was the right decision to expel representatives of the Castro regime. But Marguerite Jimenez, who's with the human rights advocacy group called the Washington Office on Latin America, has a different perspective.

MARGUERITE JIMENEZ: It was not supposed to be political. It was supposed to be just basic protection of our diplomats. And now to expel Cuban diplomats, it's retaliation. There's no logic to this.

KELEMEN: And she says this will have a chilling effect on U.S.-Cuba relations.

JIMENEZ: This is going to complicate and slow down any of our bilateral cooperation just simply based on the fact that there will be an insufficient number of people at the - at the Cuban Embassy here in D.C. to do very basic things like process visas or meet with U.S. businesspeople interested in doing business on the island.

KELEMEN: Her advocacy group is still planning to bring Cubans here for meetings, but they'll have to already have multi-entrance U.S. visas or get them in another country. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANDREW APPLEPIE'S "LITTLE FEATHER")

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