Canada halves diplomatic staff in Cuba after another mystery illness

Speculation on cause of maladies includes microwave weapon and a species of cricket

A woman walks in front of Canada’s embassy in Havana, Cuba. Photograph: Stringer/Reuters

A woman walks in front of Canada’s embassy in Havana, Cuba. Photograph: Stringer/Reuters

 

The Canadian government has said it would withdraw up to half of its diplomatic staff in Havana, as it disclosed that another employee had fallen ill with the mysterious symptoms that have affected dozens of Americans and Canadians stationed in Cuba.

Since early 2017, US and Canadian government employees in Cuba have suffered strange symptoms such as dizziness, insomnia, hearing loss and nausea when using a computer. Canada’s government said that, in all, 14 Canadian employees, spouses and dependents have been affected.

Global Affairs Canada, the nation’s foreign ministry, said that after the last confirmed case of unusual symptoms, in November 2018, Canadian staff members in Havana undertook additional medical testing. Those tests confirmed “an additional employee has symptoms consistent with those of previously affected employees”, the ministry’s statement said.

Though the Canadian government had started “revised security measures”, it said, “we have decided to reduce by up to half the number of Canadian staff posted to Havana”. The Canadian embassy will continue to function with consular services and an ambassador, the ministry said, but some programmes may be affected. There was no evidence that Canadian travellers are at risk, the ministry said.

Microwave weapon

So far, 26 Americans have been affected with similar maladies, according to the US state department, and doctors who examined some of the Americans said they had suffered inner-ear damage. But neither the United States nor Canada has determined a cause for the symptoms, leading to speculation that some kind of microwave weapon may have been deployed against the diplomats, who have described hearing a strange, high-pitched sound, often accompanied by a sensation of intense pressure.

Two scientists have also suggested that a species of loud, droning cricket may have been responsible, although its sounds are rapid-fire pulses, while the diplomats described an erratic noise. The US has also withdrawn personnel from its embassy in Havana, reducing its operations to a bare-bones staff of about two dozen. And in October the Trump administration expelled more than a dozen Cuban diplomats over the illnesses, and issued a warning to Americans not to travel to the island.

Cuba has denied any responsibility for the illnesses, and condemned the expulsions of diplomats as a “hasty, inappropriate and unthinking” decision that was motivated by politics. While the Trump administration said those expulsions did not signal a change in policy toward Cuba, it has taken a more hostile stance to Havana than the Obama administration, which began normalising relations with the old Cold War foe. – New York Times