U.S. State Department softens travel warning to Cuba

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Nora Gámez Torres (Miami Herald) focuses on changes in the U.S. State Department’s travel alert system. It now recommends American citizens “reconsider” visiting Cuba. It had previously issued a warning advising Americans not to travel to the island.

“As we were putting all this together, we did a very careful assessment. We talked to all of our experts, and this is where we came out on Cuba,” Michelle Bernier-Toth, acting deputy Assistant Secretary for Overseas Citizen Services, said in a teleconference on Wednesday.

On Sept. 29, the State Department recommended that Americans not travel to Cuba because they could risk becoming victims of mysterious attacks such as those suffered by at least 24 diplomats and their relatives stationed in Havana. The United States also ordered the evacuation of most of its employees at its embassy in the Cuban capital.

“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. Attacks have occurred in U.S. diplomatic residences and at Hotel Nacional and Hotel Capri in Havana,” says the new warning.

According to Bernier-Toth, the new classification is not due to a change in the situation on the island but the need to be consistent in classifying the risks in different countries. “There is no change in our assessment of what is going on in Cuba,” Bernier-Toth said. The official said that in cases where the U.S. orders the departure of its personnel from a country, this automatically increases the risk of travel “to level 3 or 4,” which would be equivalent to the old recommendation of “do not to travel.”

Categories three and four will be reviewed every six months, she added.

The new system includes four levels: the first is “exercise normal precautions”; level two, “exercise increased caution”; the third, “reconsider travel”; and level four and most serious is “do not travel.” [. . .]

The new Cuba travel advisory also eliminated a reference to the responsibility of the Cuban government to prevent attacks against U.S. diplomats, which was included in the previous one.

[. . .] The U.S. director at the Cuban Foreign Ministry, Josefina Vidal, responded by criticizing Rubio and the State Department and insisting that the agency “has no evidence whatsoever to affirm that there have been attacks against its diplomats in Havana, nor that Cuba may be responsible or have knowledge of third-party actions.” [. . .]

For full article, see http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article193963314.html#emlnl=Afternoon_Newsletter

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