It appears that the U.S. Embassy in Havana will become less of a ghost town if Mike Pompeo is confirmed as U.S. Secretary of State.
In recent weeks, the staff at the embassy had shrunk to just 10 diplomats after around two-thirds of the diplomatic personnel were sent home in the wake of mysterious incidents that caused disturbing health symptoms among two dozen diplomatic personnel.
During Pompeo's confirmation hearing Thursday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall asked him if he would work to improve ties with Cuba. "The answer to your question is yes," Pompeo said.
Then he elaborated on the embassy issue. "I think everyone is aware of some of the concerns there. We will continually be making sure we can keep these folks safe," he said. "We will build out a team there that will deliver American diplomacy to Cuba in a way that represents the finest of American diplomacy."
The embassy, which is headed by Chargé d'affaires Philip S. Goldberg, has only a skeletal staff at a time when Cuba is expected to undergo a generational shift in power when leader Raúl Castro retires next Thursday and the National Assembly of People's Power selects his successor.
Most of the handful of jobs that remain at the embassy have to do with maintenance of the facility, security or the internal functioning of the diplomatic complex. There are no political, economic, public affairs or cultural officers listed on the embassy roster.
The State Department announced on March 2 that for the indefinite future it would staff the embassy in Havana at the minimum level “necessary to perform core diplomatic and consular functions." The United States also has expelled 17 Cuban diplomats from Washington and issued a travel alert for U.S. visitors to the island in response to the health incidents.
The State Department is still investigating what caused an array of symptoms ranging from hearing loss and ringing in the ears to mild concussions, headaches and memory and sleep disorders. Some diplomats reported hearing shrill sounds before the onset of their symptoms; others did not.
Although the United States has not directly blamed Cuba for causing what it calls attacks, it does hold the Cuban government responsible for not protecting the diplomats while they were in Cuban territory and thinks Cuban officials know more about the incidents than they are letting on. Cuba has repeatedly denied responsibility for the incidents.