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Reduced Embassy Staffing and Support Prompt Risk Rating

In light of recent events in Cuba, we raised the country's risk rating from unrated to elevated risk on October 3, 2017.

On September 29, the U.S. State Department ordered the mandatory departure of non-emergency embassy personnel and family members, citing the Cuban government's inability to guarantee the safety of U.S. diplomats. The U.S. State Department also warned U.S. citizens against travel to Cuba.

Over the past several months, more than 20 U.S. Embassy employees have suffered a variety of physical symptoms (e.g. hearing loss, dizziness, headaches, fatigue, and reduced cognitive functioning) from attacks of an unknown nature. There is very little public information about the nature of the attacks or the perpetrators. According to the U.S. Embassy in Havana, the attacks have occurred in U.S. diplomatic residences and in two hotels: Hotel Nacional and Hotel Capri. These attacks reportedly led the U.S. government to expel two Cuban diplomats from the U.S. Further stress on the diplomatic relationship could complicate the situation.

A colorful street in Cuba; Photo by Alexander Kunze on Unsplash

Decreased Support for U.S. Citizen Travelers

Downsizing the U.S. Embassy staff and operations will reduce the embassy’s ability to provide services to American citizens in Cuba, including routine assistance to U.S. citizen travelers. Compounding matters, Hurricane Irma caused severe flooding and widespread damage. The embassy is advising U.S. citizens against in-person visits due to the building's damage.

Advice for Harvard Travelers

You should consider this heightened level of uncertainty when assessing your need to travel to Cuba. If the number of travelers to Cuba declines significantly, airlines may have to reduce or cancel scheduled flights.

Anyone planning to travel to Cuba in the next several months and who would like to discuss specific concerns is encouraged to email our International Safety & Security team, international_safety@harvard.edu.

Given the elevated risk rating, all Harvard College students traveling to Cuba with Harvard sponsorship are required to follow the Harvard College student travel policy.

While in Cuba, we advise you to avoid areas where U.S. diplomats live, work, and frequent, including Hotel Nacional and Hotel Capri. You should also be aware of the 180 businesses listed on the U.S. Treasury Department's list of restricted entities. The list includes hotels and restaurants that travelers can no longer engage in financial transactions with as of November 9, 2017.  

If you're in need of medical or security assistance or evacuation while in Cuba, contact Harvard Travel Assist, our 24/7 global emergency response program, at +1-617-998-0000 or travelassist@harvard.edu.

We'll continue to monitor the situation and adjust our risk rating and travel advice as needed.

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