In late September, the Department issued a travel warning for
Cuba, advising U.S. citizens to not travel to the island nation following
reports of U.S. embassy employees suffering mysterious health attacks. Symptoms
reportedly included hearing loss, dizziness, headaches and cognitive issues,
and the government evacuated many employees from the U.S. embassy in Havana.
However, on its newly overhauled travel advisory system, the
State Department ranks Cuba a level 3 nation, suggesting Americans "reconsider
travel." The same ranking is given to Russia and Turkey.
When asked by reporters to explain the change, Michelle
Bernier-Toth, acting deputy assistant secretary for overseas citizen services,
said that the department "routinely reviews previous travel warnings"
and determined that level 3 was appropriate. She also said that part of the
reason Cuba has a level 3 ranking is because the Department has significantly
reduced its staffing at the embassy in Havana.
"Whenever we do that, traditionally we have always
issued a travel warning," she said, adding that "we have a small
footprint in our embassy in Havana. We have very limited consular resources and
our ability to help people in an emergency is extremely limited."
However, the advisory on the website says that the reason
for the advisory is "due to health attacks directed at U.S. Embassy Havana
"Because our personnel's safety is at risk, and we are
unable to identify the source of the attacks, we believe U.S. citizens may also
be at risk," the advisory continues. "Attacks have occurred in U.S.
diplomatic residences and at Hotel Nacional and Hotel Capri in Havana."
It later adds that due to the drawdown in staff, "the
U.S. Embassy in Havana has limited ability to assist U.S. citizens."
Tour operators in September had decried the Department's
earlier travel warning as without merit and based on political posturing by the
"It was completely unfounded," said InsightCuba
president Tom Popper in September. "We knew something was coming once the
story broke about the symptoms that the embassy officials were experiencing."