WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, President of Engage Cuba, James Williams, released the following statement on the news of the U.S. Department of State's decision to permanently reduce the number of personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba. The State Department was required to take action on diplomatic assignments to Cuba by March 4th.
The announcement follows a 180-day ordered departure of nonessential U.S. diplomatic personnel from Embassy Havana after 21 individuals reported experiencing a range of health symptoms.
"It is deeply disappointing that Secretary Tillerson chose not to return U.S. diplomats to their assigned posts in Havana. This decision will be applauded in Moscow and Beijing, as both countries are poised to take advantage of Cuba's historic transition of power while the United States remains on the sidelines. We agree that the safety of U.S. personnel should be a top priority, but it’s time to let our diplomats do their jobs,” said James Williams, President of Engage Cuba. "Perhaps the biggest losers will be the hundreds of thousands of Cubans and Cuban Americans, who travel back and forth to see family, celebrate milestones, and attend to sick relatives, since we are unable to properly process visas and facilitate travel. We implore Secretary Tillerson not to abandon the Cuban people during this critical time."
The embassy, which has been operating with a 60 percent reduction in staff since September, will convert to an unaccompanied post, where Foreign Service Officers are not permitted to relocate their families. Last October, the U.S. had also expelled a reciprocal 60 percent of Cuban personnel from their embassy in Washington, D.C.
Staff reductions at both embassies have had dire consequences for visa processing. Limited consular services for U.S. visas in Havana have been severely hindering the ability of tens of thousands of Cubans to acquire entry visas and reunite with family in the United States. In Washington, a personnel deficiency in the Cuban consulate has created a backlog for Cuban-Americans who need visas to travel to the island.
American travelers in Cuba need a functioning embassy to serve their interests and keep them safe. In 2017, nearly a million Americans traveled to Cuba, and they have been significantly contributing to the growth of Cuba’s private sector.
As Washington continues to distance itself from Havana, U.S. adversaries have exerted greater influence. In a time of political uncertainty for Cuba, safeguarding U.S. national security interests remains more critical than ever. Last year, over a dozen retired U.S. military flag officers urged U.S. National Security Adviser General H.R. McMaster to continue to normalize relations with Cuba in order to strengthen regional stability in the Western Hemisphere. More information on the national security implications of our U.S.-Cuba policy is available here.