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Canadian embassy in Cuba now rated as dangerous as Iraq, Afghanistan as mystery over unexplained symptoms continues

Global News logo Global News 5 days ago Mike Le Couteur
A wave of mysterious ailments have struck diplomats in Cuba, officials in Ottawa say. © AP Photo/Desmond Boylan, File A wave of mysterious ailments have struck diplomats in Cuba, officials in Ottawa say.

The Canadian embassy in Cuba is now considered as dangerous as the missions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon, and officials are clawing back rules that let diplomats posted there bring their family with them as the mysterious case of unexplained symptoms experienced by staff there gets even more bizarre.

Global Affairs Canada announced the changes on Monday after a nearly year-long investigation into a mysterious illness that has stricken 10 diplomats and their family members who were posted in Havana between April 2017 and January 2018.

A senior government official, who briefed reporters on the situation, said the concussion-like symptoms reported over the past year by workers there continue to persist among the 10 people which include a number of minors.

“This is very worrying,” the official told reporters in the announcement that the government was changing the danger designation of the embassy in Cuba and listing it as a so-called “unaccompanied” posting.

Meanwhile, the Canadian government continues to say there is no reason to limit travel to Cuba as no Canadian tourists have presented symptoms.

Two diplomats and their families have returned home from Havana earlier than scheduled and service on the ground could be affected as the next in line are being given the option to re-evaluate their posting.

“The embassy in Cuba remains opened but some services could be delayed in the coming weeks as we manage the transition,” said the official.

Canadian authorities have been working with their Cuban counterparts to try and get to the bottom of the mysterious illness which has also stricken a number of American diplomats who were also serving in Havana.

In a briefing last January, officials were floating the idea of a sonic attack but are now saying it’s “very improbable.”

So what else could it be?

Canadian officials simply don’t know.

In total, 27 Canadian diplomats and their dependents were tested in the last 12 months after several of them presented unusual symptoms including headaches, nosebleeds, loss of hearing, loss of balance, and short-term memory loss.

“The trajectory of health symptoms is uncertain so, it’s been challenging on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis to know exactly what the cohort is,” the official told reporters.

The RCMP has been examining a possible criminal investigation while Health Canada was going down the medical route and at this point, officials say the medical investigation is yielding more results.

However, when pressed on that point, the government officials would only point reporters to a study by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

That study was posted in February and looked at the symptoms experienced by the American diplomats posted in Havana. According to the study, there are now concerns being raised about a new type of acquired brain injury.

Researchers found a number of those affected heard a “novel localized sound at the onset of symptoms in their homes of hotel rooms,” and many described it as “intensely loud, and with a pure and sustained tonality.”

READ MORE:

Eight Canadians sickened in mysterious Cuba incidents, RCMP leading investigation

Officials from the United States, Cuba and Canada have been working together to find the source of that sound but have come up empty.

The JAMA study concludes: “These individuals appeared to have sustained injury to widespread brain networks without an associated history of head trauma.”

Canadian officials say the cause remains unknown but say could be “human-made,” still, they seem baffled by the whole thing.

“We’ve been at this a year, the U.S. has been at it for longer than that with all of the resources that they have and they are no closer than we are to try to determine what is happening and why it might be,” the Canadian officials told reporters.

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