US Re-Opens Consular Services In Cuba For First Time Since ‘Havana Syndrome’

(Photo by ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP via Getty Images)

Dylan Housman Deputy News Editor
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The United States Embassy in Cuba reopened consular and visa services Wednesday for the first time since workers there were afflicted with mysterious health conditions initially dubbed as “Havana syndrome.”

The embassy has gradually increased staffing levels and services over the past year, and will now begin processing immigrant visas for the first time since 2017. Staffers will prioritize reuniting Cubans with family members living in the U.S. at a time where more Cubans are migrating away from the island than have in decades, according to NPR.

The U.S. government reported stopping Cubans from entering the United States at the Mexican border 34,675 times in December. The embassy is expected to give out around 20,000 visas per year, according to NPR. Customs and Border Patrol reports that Cubans are the second most encountered nationality at the border, following Mexicans.

The State Department didn’t go into details on what the change means for U.S.-Cuba relations as a whole, but Spokesman Ned Price said Wednesday it “makes real what we’ve consistently said, that we seek to find practical ways to support the Cuban people.” (RELATED: Biden To Announce New Sanctions On Cuba Following Widespread Protests)

Embassy operations were drastically scaled down in 2017 after diplomats came down with a series of unexplained health issues, dubbed at the time as “Havana syndrome.” Symptoms included headaches, ringing in the ears and brain fog, among others. There was some speculation that the illnesses may have been brought on by some sort of sonic attack, but as of now the cause of the symptoms are still unexplained, although other diplomats outside Cuba have come down with the same ailments. U.S. government agencies now refer to the events as “Anomalous Health Incidents.”

Since then, Cubans who want to get visas to the U.S. have had to travel to Guyana and be processed there. Pending procedures will still need to be processed there, Price said, but all new applications will be processed at the embassy in Havana going forward.