The State Department’s decision to make permanent the ordered departure of most U.S. diplomatic staff in Havana and designate the U.S. embassy an “unaccompanied post" is ill-advised and counterproductive. While the incidents that affected the health of U.S. personnel remain a cause for concern, this decision holds the wellbeing of the Cuban people hostage to a medical mystery that has yet to be resolved by the best experts in the U.S. government and around the globe.

Simply put, there are no winners here. By only keeping a skeleton staff, the United States deprives itself of a more robust presence on the island as Cuba approaches one of the most important political transitions in its history. Washington now has no way to meet its commitments under the updated 2017 U.S.-Cuban migration accords. Without a functioning U.S. consulate, Cuban families cannot reunite and reconcile, Cuban entrepreneurs are cut off from important sources of training and supplies in the United States, and members of Cuban civil society will find it increasingly difficult to travel to the U.S. Even many dissidents disagree with the isolating effects of the diplomatic withdrawal. Civil society actors have not been so isolated in decades.

Considering the ongoing and more violent threats U.S. diplomats face around the globe, the indefinite withdrawal of U.S. diplomatic personnel from Cuba is unjustified. Instead, the Trump administration has diminished its ability to affect positive change on the island while doing little to gain assurances that would allow U.S. diplomats to go back to work.

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