The U.S. State Department said Friday that it was making permanent its decision to cut staffing at the U.S. Embassy in Cuba, six months after it recalled a number of diplomatic staffers over alleged "health incidents" at the Havana facility.
The State Department announced its decision two days before a six-month legal deadline to either send diplomats back to Havana or make the reduction permanent.
Last year, U.S. diplomats in Cuba began complaining of memory loss, headaches and other unexplained symptoms that eventually affected at least 24 Americans at the embassy.
The State Department withdrew 60 percent of its diplomats from Havana as it searched for the cause. The United States has not blamed Cuba for the problems but has said the withdrawal was made to protect the health and safety of embassy staff and family members.
The embassy in Havana is now to be considered an "unaccompanied post," meaning diplomats working in Havana may not bring their families to live with them in Cuba.
The embassy now offers only emergency services to U.S. citizens. Cubans who want to apply for a visa to the United States must do so at a U.S. embassy in another country.
The decision to permanently reduce the U.S. diplomatic presence in Havana deals a blow to U.S.-Cuba relations at a critical moment: President Raul Castro is expected to step down in April, bringing the potential of fresh leadership to the island nation for the first time in nearly six decades.
Raul Castro took over from his brother, Fidel Castro, in 2008 after Fidel served 49 years as prime minister and president of Cuba.