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Kathy Castor offers measured response to Cuban embassy staff cuts

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

While Florida’s senators expressed outrage at the Cuban government Friday, Tampa area Democratic Representative Kathy Castor is offering a noticeably less punitive response.

Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio were angry after the U.S. State Department announced it will remove more than half its staff from the American embassy in Havana in the wake of mysterious attacks that have injured 21 people associated with the embassy.

Safety and security of American diplomats and their families are paramount, Castor said. She is supporting efforts by both the U.S. and Cuban governments to determine who is responsible for sonar attacks that have led to serious injuries within the embassy, which include hearing loss, dizziness, tinnitus, balance and vision problems, headache, fatigue, cognitive issues and difficulty sleeping.

Despite an intensive investigation by the FBI, the cause and perpetrators of the attacks remain a mystery, with some experts speculating that some kind of sonic weapon or faulty surveillance device may have been at fault. The State Dept. also issued an advisory warning to American citizens who travel to Cuba that they could face unusual risks. Some of the attacks occurred in hotels where State Department employees were temporarily staying, but there is no evidence so far that tourists or hotel employees have been affected, The New York Times reports.

Sen. Nelson bashed the Raul Castro-led government today, saying that it owes an explanation “and reparations” to the families of those injured. He also called for the Cuban Embassy’s staff in Washington, D.C.to be reduced by the same proportionate number of U.S. personnel recalled.

That isn’t happening, though, prompting Rubio to blast the State Department as “weak, unacceptable and outrageous” to allow the Castro led government keep as many of its operatives in the U.S.

“The idea that Cuba knows nothing about how these attacks took place and who perpetrated them is absurd,” Rubio remarked. “The State Department must conduct its own investigation independent of the Castro regime and submit a comprehensive report to Congress.”

The State Department also issued an advisory warning to American citizens traveling to Cuba that they could face unusual risks. Some of the attacks occurred in hotels where State Department employees were temporarily staying, but there is no evidence so far that tourists or hotel employees have been affected, The New York Times reports.

But Castro, who became the first Florida member of Congress to call for the ending of the decades-old economic embargo against the community led government in 2013, said that the announcement and indefinite suspension of visa processing and consular services “goes too far and unnecessarily harms the ability of Cuban and American families to travel and see loved ones.”

“The State Department must swiftly develop contingency plans to continue to allow families to travel from the island,” Castor said. “Many of my neighbors who have been waiting for the opportunity to reconnect with loved ones now face unnecessary and heartbreaking barriers.  Cuba, Florida and many Caribbean islands and nations are recovering from devastating hurricanes and families should not be subjected to unnecessary and costly burdens and red tape when trying to visit and stay with family.”

Castor also says the travel advisory appears to be” unnecessarily broad” in its application to “all American travelers” to Cuba in its entirety.

Both governments should avoid calls to sever all diplomatic ties or travel, or encourage retaliatory efforts without identifying the responsible parties, the Tampa Democrat says.

The Cuban government has consistently denied any involvement in or any knowledge of the mysterious series of health incidents that have affected American diplomats in Havana.

President Donald Trump announced at a June news conference in Miami that he would be rolling back former President Barack Obama’s reopening of diplomatic relations and the American embassy in Havana. However, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has yet to issue the revised official guidelines that would enable Trump’s policy changes to be enacted.

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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