On October 3, the U.S. Secretary of State issued a Statement about the ordered departure of 15 Cuban diplomats from the U.S. This post will review that Statement and U.S. State Department press conferences regarding that decision. Subsequent posts will review reactions by the Cuban Government and by others.
The Statement announced that the Department had just informed the Cuban Government that the Department “was ordering the departure of 15 of [Cuba’s] . . . officials from its Embassy in Washington, D.C.” because of “Cuba’s failure to take appropriate steps to protect our diplomats in accordance with its obligations under the Vienna Convention [on Diplomatic Relations]. This order will ensure equity in our respective diplomatic operations.”
The Statement then noted that on September 29 the Department had announced the voluntary withdrawal of diplomatic personnel and their families from the U.S. Embassy in Havana as a result of concerns about the still unresolved problem of medical “incidents” or “attacks” on those diplomats and their families
The Statement concluded, “We continue to maintain diplomatic relations with Cuba, and will continue to cooperate with Cuba as we pursue the investigation into these attacks.”
Department’s Press Briefings
There were two Department briefings on October 3 that concerned U.S.-Cuba relations. The first was a pre-announcement briefing exclusively about the Statement when an unnamed State Department official added the following additional details:
- The Cuban ambassador in Washington was informed of the expulsions in a 9 a.m. phone call.
- The expelled embassy personnel were identified by the Department and must be out of the U.S. within seven days. By then, the American embassy in Havana will have completed its own drawdown.
- The Cuban government need to give a clear assurance that the attacks would not continue before the personnel in either embassy could return.”
- All of this was done even though these “officials emphasized that they are not accusing the Cuban government of complicity in the attacks.”
- “We are not assigning culpability. The expulsions aim to “underscore to the Cubans that they must take more actions to protect our people on the ground.”
That same afternoon Heather Nauert, the Department’s Spokesperson, held another press briefing that opened with a reiteration that the decision to expel Cuban diplomats did “not signal a change of policy or determination of responsibility for the attacks on U.S. Government personnel in Cuba. Investigations into those attacks are still ongoing [in cooperation with Cuban authorities].” She also added, “We recognize that at this time there is a need to keep a post open there with a skeleton crew handling emergency type issues down there. Frankly, . . . our State Department personnel want to serve in countries all around the world. We have many of them who are serving in very dangerous capacities, and they don’t get enough credit for doing this incredible, amazing work on behalf of U.S. citizens.”
There also was more information about the 21 Americans who have medical problems caused by an unknown device in Havana: 17 were government employees and four were spouses (three of whom worked at the embassy). Another person was added to this list, making it 22.
 U.S. State Dep’t, On the Expulsion of Cuban Officials from the United States (Oct. 3, 2017).
 U.S. State Dep’t, Background Briefing: State Department Official on Cuba (Oct. 3, 2017); U.S. State Dep’t, Press Briefing (Oct. 3, 2017); Harris & Davis, U.S. Expels 15 Cuban Diplomats From Embassy in Washington, N.Y. Times (Oct. 3, 2017); Reuters, U.S. to Expel Nearly Two-thirds of Cuban Embassy Staff, N.Y. Times (Oct. 2, 2017); Assoc. Press, Ties Threatened: US to Tell Cuba to Remove Most Diplomats, N.Y. Times (Oct. 3, 2017).