Illnesses at U.S. Embassy in Havana Prompt Evacuation of More Diplomats
While there is no evidence so far that tourists or hotel employees have been affected, the government’s travel warning could cripple Cuba’s burgeoning tourism industry if tour operators, hotel and cruise line companies or their insurers decide that their employees and customers could be at risk.
“Right now, the most important constituency of determining the impact of this is not members of Congress or pundits; it’s the insurance companies,” said John Kavulich, the president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. “If the carriers withdraw coverage because of this warning, then everything could shut down there almost overnight.”
The timing of Mr. Tillerson’s decision and its potential fallout promises to write yet another chapter in an extraordinary history between the two countries that has included the explosion of the American battleship Maine in Havana Harbor in 1898, the Bay of Pigs in 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.
Then, in 2014, after decades of frosty relations, constant sniping and severed diplomatic relations, President Barack Obama reversed course and reached an agreement with President Raúl Castro of Cuba to reopen embassies in the countries’ respective capitals and begin to encourage nascent tourism and business ties.
But the rapprochement was deeply unpopular among a powerful segment of Cuban émigrés in Florida, and Mr. Trump in his campaign vowed to reverse what he called a “terrible and misguided deal.” Once in office, Mr. Trump did undo crucial pieces of Mr. Obama’s policy, but kept in place others that were broadly popular, such as allowing direct flights and cruises between the United States and Cuba, and rules making it easier for American companies to do business in Cuba.
On Capitol Hill, a debate began immediately over whether Mr. Tillerson acted too quickly or not quickly enough. He has known since a few days after his confirmation on Feb. 1 that diplomats in Havana were becoming ill, but took until Friday to reduce the diplomatic and Marine Corps contingent there to 27.
Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, who fiercely opposed Mr. Obama’s decision to improve ties with Cuba, questioned the decision not to punish Cuba more forcefully.
Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, said punitive measures would only play into the hands of the attackers. “Whoever is doing this obviously is trying to disrupt the normalization process between the United States and Cuba,” Mr. Leahy said. “Someone or some government is trying to reverse that process.”