Interview: U.S. overreacting with diplomatic scale-back, travel warning, says Cuban expert

Source: Xinhua| 2017-10-01 10:42:13|Editor: Yurou
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HAVANA, Sept. 30 (Xinhua) -- By withdrawing all nonessential staff from its embassy in Havana and warning Americans "to avoid travelling to Cuba," the United States is overreacting to an unidentified health issue that is still under investigation, a Cuban political expert said Saturday.

The U.S. State Department's order is "excessive and defensive," Rafael Hernandez, an expert on Cuba-U.S. relations, told Xinhua.

"Removing staff for security reasons is something the United States does in other parts of the world where there are epidemics, natural disasters or wars. Given the nature of this episode, taking such an extreme measure is not justified," said Hernandez.

"The travel warning can affect U.S. citizens psychologically and prevent them from coming to Cuba," he said.

The two countries officially restored ties in 2015 after five decades of animosity.

Since then, Cuba has seen a boom of tourists from the United States and other countries, driven by the newly thawed ties.

In a statement with a provocative headline -- "Actions taken in response to attacks on U.S. government personnel in Cuba," the U.S. State Department on Friday said these measures were due to 21 embassy employees suffering from "a range of physical symptoms, including ear complaints, hearing loss, dizziness, headache, fatigue, cognitive issues and sleeping difficulties."

The diplomatic scale-back and travel warning will remain in place "until the government of Cuba can ensure the safety of our diplomats" from "attacks of an unknown nature."

Cuba appears to be as stumped by the mysterious afflictions as U.S. officials are and have been cooperating with the investigation from the beginning.

Hernandez acknowledged "they are very strange attacks," adding he doubted Cuba has the technology to carry out anything like that.

"It would seem that they can only be caused by someone with very sophisticated covert technology and only intelligence services can do that, especially those in the United States," said Hernandez.

"These incidents of diplomats who have been affected by these mysterious syndromes are very specific. They are not generalized. They don't affect all the embassies in Cuba and not even all the U.S. personnel on the island," he added.

Besides, 500,000 more Americans have visited Cuba so far this year and there have been no reports of similar problems.

Responding to the U.S. State Department announcement, Cuba on Friday called on the United States to refrain from "politicizing an issue of this nature" and from making "hasty decisions ... not based on evidence or conclusive results of investigations."

Hernandez, director of the well-known Cuban news magazine Temas, said the U.S. State Department may have been reacting to "political pressures" from the conservative administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, who has rolled back U.S.-Cuba ties since taking office.

Withdrawing diplomatic personnel is a blow to bilateral ties, particularly to Cuba, which wants to continue making progress in normalizing relations with Washington, he said.

"There is a struggle within the U.S. government regarding its relationship with Cuba and other issues of international importance, such as the situation on the Korean Peninsula and the nuclear agreement with Iran," he said.