by Angela Fortuna
United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced last Sunday that the U.S. is considering closing its embassy in Havana, Cuba, just months after former President Barack Obama re-opened it.
The deliberation came after 21 employees at the U.S. Embassy in Cuba reported worsening medical problems beginning last year, according to the Washington Post.
Some of the affected employees now suffer from permanent hearing loss or concussions, while others had severe nausea, headaches and ear-ringing, according to the Al Jazeera Media Network.
Tillerson commented that the situation is currently “under evaluation.” Cuba has denied any responsibility for the incidents.
Even though the incidents began last year, the U.S. is onlying beginning to take action now. According to the Washington Post, Republican senators wrote to Tillerson last Friday, asking him to close the embassy and to expel Cuba’s diplomats from the U.S.
“If Cuba does not take tangible action, close the U.S. Embassy in Havana,” wrote the five Republican senators. “Cuba’s neglect of its duty to protect our diplomats and their families cannot go unchallenged.”
There is no doubt that the U.S. and Cuba have had a tense relationship for a long while. The Obama administration tried to make relations with Cuba better and restore communication, after many years.
Obama and Raul Castro, who replaced his brother Fidel as Cuban leader in 2008, took extraordinary steps to normalize bilateral relations, including meeting with each other, restoring full diplomatic ties and easing travel restrictions, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
By considering such a big move, the Trump administration is jeopardizing connections with Cuba the Obama administration tried so hard to restore.
Having good relationships with other countries is essential for international trade and maintaining alliances. Closing an embassy in another country is a very risky move, and could affect the United States’ relationships with other countries.
Erin-Leigh Beecher, a coordinator for the Center of International Education, informed that when groups of students from Central Connecticut State University has traveled to Cuba in the past for study abroad programs, even before the Havana Embassy reopened, they have not run into any issues.
Beecher expects CCSU students and faculty traveling to Cuba in 2018 to travel without any problems, even if the U.S. Embassy in Cuba were to close.
A minor issue such as the illness at the embassy should not have such a big effect on the outcome of U.S. and Cuba relations.
The risks of closing the embassy outweigh the benefits, and could permanently damage U.S. and Cuban relations. With a situation like this, it is important to think about whether it is really worth it to go through so much hassle and frustration to resolve a minor issue.
Many students from all over the world travel to Cuba every year. Closing the embassy in Havana could cause a lot of unnecessary problems and could affect whether or not students and universities decide to continue their travels to Cuba.
If students and families run into issues while traveling to Cuba, where will they turn to for help and guidance?
The means of communication in countries outside of the U.S. are very different from the way Americans communicate with each other in the U.S. If there is no U.S. Embassy in Cuba, it will be nearly impossible to reach people outside of the country for help.
Closing a U.S. Embassy in any country will cause a lot of backlash and unnecessary problems while traveling.