The US expelled 15 of Cuba's diplomats Tuesday to protest its failure to protect Americans from unexplained attacks in Havana, plunging diplomatic ties between the countries to levels unseen in years, the AP reports. The State Department gave Cuba's ambassador a list Tuesday of 15 names and ordered them out within one week, officials said, in a move that aims to "ensure equity" between each nation's embassy staffing. Last week, the US announced it was withdrawing 60% of its own diplomats from Havana because they might be attacked and harmed if they stay. The dual moves marked a sharp escalation in the US response to attacks that began nearly a year ago and yet remain unexplained despite harming at least 22 Americans—including a new victim identified this week.
Still, US officials emphasized they were not accusing Cuba of either culpability or complicity, merely a failure to stop whatever is happening to Americans working out of the US Embassy in Havana. Havana blasted the US order, calling it "reckless" and "hasty." Days earlier, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez had pleaded with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson not to take such a step. His appeals unsuccessful, Rodriguez called a news conference in the Cuban capital to again deny involvement and defend his country's efforts to assist in the US investigation. "The Ministry of Foreign Affairs strongly protests and condemns this unfounded and unacceptable decision as well as the pretext used to justify it," Rodriguez said. He did not announce any retaliatory measures.