Cuba

Canada reduces staff in Cuba after another diplomat suffers ‘unusual health symptoms’

The government of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that it will reduce its staff at the embassy in Havana by half after confirming that another Canadian diplomat has “unusual health symptoms.”
The government of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that it will reduce its staff at the embassy in Havana by half after confirming that another Canadian diplomat has “unusual health symptoms.” Getty Images

The government of Canada announced on Wednesday that it will pull back half of its embassy staff in Havana after confirming that another Canadian diplomat is suffering from “unusual health symptoms.”

“Following the last confirmed case of unusual health symptoms in November 2018, a number of Canadian diplomatic staff posted to Havana underwent additional medical testing. These tests confirm that an additional employee has symptoms consistent with those of previously affected employees. This brings the total number of affected Canadian employees, spouses and dependents to 14,“ the government said in a statement.

“In addition to revised security measures already initiated by the Canadian government, we have decided to reduce by up to half the number of Canadian staff posted to Havana,” the statement said.

The Canadian government said the embassy will remain open and that Canadian citizens will have access to full consular services, although some programs will “be adjusted” in the coming weeks.

Previously, the Canadian government declared the Havana embassy as an “unaccompanied post,” so diplomats there could not be accompanied by their relatives.

At least 26 U.S. officials in Havana showed symptoms of vestibular disorders and brain damage that have befuddled doctors. Officials reported hearing strange sounds or feeling a sort of pressure current before experiencing the first symptoms. The incidents began in late 2016 and continued intermittently until the summer of 2018. The United States evacuated all non-essential personnel from the embassy in Havana and stopped issuing visas in response to the incidents in September 2017.

Canadian diplomats and their families — including several children — have also presented the same symptoms: dizziness, hearing and balance problems, and brain damage, among others.

The cause of the injuries has not been found.

After confirming a new case last November, the Canadian government said it was evaluating its diplomatic presence in Cuba. A delegation of officials traveled to Havana in December to evaluate the situation at the embassy but no details of the trip have emerged.

Michael E. Hoffer, M.D. at the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine, talks about his team's research on the acute symptoms and clinical findings from the health incidents that affected U.S. diplomats in Havana.

Dr. Michael Hoffer and other doctors from the University of Miami who first treated the U.S. diplomats — as well as specialists from the University of Pennsylvania who continued their treatment — said they have seen physical evidence of the injuries and reject the theory that this might be a case of mass hysteria. The theory gained prominence after the publication of a preliminary study — not reviewed by other scientists — of a recording obtained by The Associated Press, which concluded that the source of the noises heard by the diplomats was crickets.

Very early on in the investigation, U.S. security agencies discarded the possibility that the sounds themselves could be the cause of the illnesses suffered by the diplomats. Doctors and scientists who are working to replicate what happened in Havana, believe that a directed energy weapon may have caused the injuries.

Dr. Shawn Marshall, who has been treating affected Canadian diplomats and their families, also does not believe mass hysteria or stress could be the culprits.

“I’m less inclined to believe that. Having seen these patients, that was not my overall impression,” he told the Toronto Star last week. “Before they even knew something was going on, they were describing some pretty remarkable symptoms that would be hard to explain as it being due to other causes, like social influence or fear, anxiety.”

Unlike the U.S. government, which calls the incidents “attacks” and has blamed the Cuban government for failing to protect its diplomats, the Canadian government said in the statement that it maintains “a positive and constructive relationship” with Cuba.

“We have had close cooperation with the Cuban authorities since the health concerns of our employees posted in Havana first surfaced in the spring of 2017,” the statement said.

More than a million Canadians visit the island each year. “There is no evidence that Canadian travelers to Cuba are at risk,” the government said.

Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter @ngameztorres

Related stories from Miami Herald

  Comments