State Dept. softens Cuba travel warning in rollout of new advisory system

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Visitors enjoy a horse-drawn carriage ride through the streets of Old Havana. Photo by Jon Braeley.

The State Department is asking Americans to “reconsider travel” to Cuba under a new advisory system it launched on Wednesday.

The new warning updates a Sept. 29 advisory that warned “U.S. citizens not to travel to Cuba” because of mysterious incidents that left at least 24 U.S. diplomats and family members with symptoms such as hearing loss, headaches, balance problems, and mild traumatic brain injuries. Wednesday’s advisory also discourages travel to Cuba “due to health attacks directed at U.S. Embassy Havana employees.”

Michelle Bernier-Toth, acting deputy assistant secretary for overseas citizens services, said the updated travel warning shows “no change in our assessment of what is happening in Cuba.” She said Cuba has a “reconsider travel” warning in the new advisory system because it is “equivalent” to the previous warning.

The new travel advisory system assesses countries for security risks such as crime, terrorism, civil unrest, and natural disasters on a four-level scale:

  • Level 1: Exercise normal precautions
  • Level 2: Exercise increased caution
  • Level 3: Reconsider travel
  • Level 4: Do not travel

Bernier-Toth said the State Department automatically assigns Level 3 or 4 to countries where it withdraws diplomatic personnel. On Sept. 29, the State Department ordered the withdrawal of 60 percent of its Havana embassy staff. Bernier-Toth said levels three and four will be reviewed every six months.

“On Cuba, I would note if you read further into what the different definitions or explanations of the different levels are, Level 3 is reconsidered travel, but the message behind that is avoid travel due to serious risks,” Bernier-Toth said. “So I think that does not change from where we were on Cuba previously.”

The updated travel advisory was issued a day after State Department officials testified at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing that examined unexplained incidents harming diplomats in Havana. The officials said they still do not know who or what is behind the incidents, but that an investigation is ongoing.

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  1. Daily Briefing - January 11, 2017 - Cuba Trade Magazine - January 11, 2018

    […] Softened travel warning: The State Department is asking Americans to “reconsider travel” to Cuba under a new advisory system it launched on Wednesday. The new warning updates a Sept. 29 advisory that warned “U.S. citizens not to travel to Cuba” because of mysterious incidents that left at least 24 U.S. diplomats and family members with symptoms such as hearing loss, headaches, and mild traumatic brain injuries. Wednesday’s advisory also discourages travel to Cuba “due to health attacks directed at U.S. Embassy Havana employees.” A State Department official said Cuba has a “reconsider travel” warning in the new advisory system because it is “equivalent” to the previous warning. (Cuba Trade) […]