Cuba

Mystery deepens in Havana as U.S. confirms a 26th diplomat in Cuba suffered health symptoms

The U.S. Embassy in Havana aided in the process of a Cuban government extradition of a New Jersey man wanted in the United States for allegedly murdering his girlfriend.
The U.S. Embassy in Havana aided in the process of a Cuban government extradition of a New Jersey man wanted in the United States for allegedly murdering his girlfriend. AP

Another U.S. diplomat who was stationed in Cuba has been medically confirmed as suffering from the same mysterious symptoms that have adversely affected the health of 25 other diplomatic personnel in Havana.

Both this case and another involving an American diplomat whose case was confirmed on June 21 stem from a single occurrence in late May at a diplomatic residence, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said Thursday.

The last two incidents are the first medically confirmed cases involving U.S. Embassy personnel in Havana that have been reported since August 2017, but in the interim a U.S. government worker in China was confirmed to be suffering from similar symptoms and others are being tested.

A constellation of symptoms have been reported: hearing loss, dizziness, problems concentrating and other cognitive issues, headaches, tinnitus, fatigue, visual problems, ear complaints and difficulty sleeping. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, who have been treating the victims, say some of the diplomats suffered symptoms that might normally be associated with a concussion, although they didn't report any head trauma.

After the first 24 cases in Havana, the U.S. government pulled about two-thirds of its diplomats from the embassy last September and expelled 17 Cuban diplomats from the Cuban Embassy in Washington. The United States no longer allows family members to accompany diplomats to the Havana post, and only a skeletal staff remains at the embassy.

Some of the incidents, which began as early as November 2016, were accompanied by a high-pitched sound or sensations of pressure before the onset of symptoms. Other diplomats did not associate their symptoms with any sounds.

The cause of the unusual set of health symptoms is still under investigation by both American and Cuban researchers. While the United States has not directly blamed Cuba, it says it does hold Havana responsible for not protecting its diplomats while they were on Cuban soil. The Cuban government has vehemently denied that it is to blame.

The State Department recently set up a multi-agency task force to investigate what might have caused the diplomats' symptoms. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said it hasn't been established if a common cause exists for all the cases.

Theories range from deliberate attacks, malfunctioning technology or even symptoms caused by mass hysteria, a toxin or a virus. More than 80 Cuban specialists are working on the case and they have come up with 14 hypotheses, but they say they don't believe the diplomats' injuries were caused by sound waves or a sonic weapon.

"The interagency community continues to work diligently to determine the cause of the symptoms, as well as develop mitigation measures," Nauert said.

Follow Mimi Whitefield on Twitter: @HeraldMimi

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