5 senators call for US to shutter embassy in Havana

The Hill

Five GOP senators are pressing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to expel all Cuban diplomats from the U.S. and shutter the American Embassy in Havana.

In a letter to Tillerson dated Thursday, Republican Sens. Tom Cotton (Ark.), Richard Burr (N.C.), John Cornyn (Texas), Marco Rubio (Fla.) and James Lankford (Okla.) admonished Cuba for failing to ensure the security of U.S. diplomats based in the country.

“Cuba’s neglect of its duty to protect our diplomats and their families cannot go unchallenged,” the letter reads.

The letter comes as the number of Americans confirmed to have suffered mysterious health symptoms during stints in Havana continues to rise. That number was updated to 21 this week.

Some Americans have experienced permanent hearing loss and mild brain damage, or concussions, from the so-called “health attacks,” the cause of which remains unknown.

“The safety of U.S. diplomatic personnel and their families posted overseas remains one of our high priorities and a shared responsibility of those nations that host U.S. diplomatic facilities,” the senators wrote. “We urge you to remind the Cuban government of its obligation and to demand that it take verifiable action to remove these threats to our personnel and their families.”

Symptoms were first reported in fall 2016 and were initially believed to have continued until spring 2017. But the State Department revealed earlier this month that an incident happened as recently as August. U.S. officials are investigating the matter.

The incidents were made public in early August, when the State Department revealed that the U.S. had expelled two Cuban diplomats from the country’s embassy in Washington.

It remains unclear who is responsible for the attacks, and the Cuban government has repeatedly denied any wrong-doing. The Associated Press reported Friday that, after hearing of the attacks, Cuban President Raul Castro voiced concern and befuddlement to Jeffrey DeLaurentis, a U.S. diplomat in Havana.

The Cuban government even offered to allow the FBI to investigate the matter — a level of access rarely offered by foreign governments, according to the AP.

The U.S. relationship with Cuba is a tense one, after President Trump earlier this year said his administration would clamp down on the travel and trade restrictions former President Obama had relaxed during his tenure.

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