The Canadian government confirmed today there has been another case of unusual health symptoms, spreading quickly among diplomatic staff in Havana, Cuba.
The newest case marks the 14th time a Canadian staff member from the embassy has fallen ill within the past two years. The severity of the outbreak has Canada withdrawing half of its embassy staff from Cuba.
The illness has affected both US and Canadian diplomats, with 26 workers at the US embassy in Cuba also being affected.
According to a study published in medical journal JAMA in March 2018, patients exhibited a range of symptoms and diagnoses including dizziness, ringing in the ears, headaches, memory loss, difficulty concentrating and mild traumatic brain injury (aka concussion).
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In an official statement, the Canadian government announced that it would be halving its diplomatic staff in Cuba’s Canadian embassy (from 16 to eight).
“The health, safety and security of our diplomatic staff and their families remain our priority,” the statement said. “The Canadian government continues to investigate the potential causes of the unusual health symptoms experienced by some Canadian diplomatic staff and their family members posted in Havana, Cuba. To date, no cause has been identified.”
Some applauded the move on social media, commending Canada for prioritising the wellbeing of its diplomats. Kimberly Breier, the current US assistant secretary of state for the region, was among the supporters.
#Canada announced today another medically confirmed injury to one of its diplomats in #Cuba. Our thoughts are with all those affected from Canada and the U.S. We demand the Cuban government fulfill its obligation to protect foreign diplomats & their families.
— Kimberly Breier (@WHAAsstSecty) 30 January 2019
**BREAKING** #Canada is pulling up to half the Canadians at its #Cuba embassy after tests confirmed a 14th case of a diplomat falling mysteriously ill. This is the latest in saga of unexplained illnesses among U.S. and Canadian diplomats in Havana. #Cuba denies anything occurred.
— Sarah Marsh (@reuterssarah) 30 January 2019
But not all were on board with the decision. Issuing her own statement, Cuban ambassador to Canada, Josefina Vidal, called the decision to cut staff “incomprehensible” in a move that “fuels speculation”.
“This behaviour favours those who in the United States use this issue to attack ad denigrate Cuba,” Ms Vidal said.
She emphasised Cuba’s co-operation in investigating the symptoms and reaffirmed the country’s commitment to good relations.
The cause of the illness has not yet been determined, though initial speculation was based around some sort of sonic attack. There’s even been a theory around the unusually sharp trill of a the Indies short-tailed cricket recently put forward.
“I think I can safely say the Cuban officials are as frustrated as we are that we cannot get any closer to determining a cause,” a Canadian Government official told ABC reporters. Until a cause is identified, the investigation will be ongoing.
The illness (which only afflicts government employees from the US and Canada) is referred to as “Havana syndrome” among diplomatic staff, named for the city where nearly all the victims were based.
While the number of staff posted to Havana will be reduced, the Canadian embassy will still operate with full consular services available.
The statement also added that there’s no evidence of a risk to travellers to Cuba.