Ottawa is considering slashing its embassy staff in Havana by half after a new case of a diplomat suffering from a mysterious ailment causing dizziness, nausea and possible ear damage was reported on Wednesday.
The unidentified diplomat has become the 14th person in Canada’s Cuban embassy to fall victim to the illness, the origins of which are still shrouded in mystery. The diplomat fell ill on December 29, displaying the same concussion-like symptoms as his previously affected colleagues, a senior Canadian official told media on Wednesday. He arrived in Cuba last summer.
The staff of Canada’s embassy in Cuba began falling ill after hearing loud piercing sounds beginning in early 2017, just like their American counterparts. The majority of the cases took place in 2017, and more than a year passed before the 13th case was reported in November. At that time, the Canadian government said that it had decided to allow embassy employees in Cuba to leave for Canada if they wished.
After this latest case, the Canadian government may decrease the embassy staff from its current 16 people to 8. The remaining staff would provide full consular services, but some non-essential programs will be reviewed and potentially phased out in the coming weeks, Canadian officials said.
The mysterious health troubles pursuing American and Canadian diplomats in Cuba, which at one point prompted both countries to order employees’ families to leave the island, have been the subject of much speculation. Plenty of theories, some more dubious than others, have been proposed to explain the phenomena.
The FBI said last January that it found “no evidence” of futuristic sonic attacks, which long had been rumored as the number one suspect in the case. A study released earlier this month said the noises, which victims of the bizarre impairment complained about, seem to be nothing but insects chirping.
The ‘Cuban sonic attack’ story started just as the Donald Trump administration reversed the reengagement with Havana launched by his predecessor, Barack Obama.
The Cuban government, which maintains that foreign diplomats are not being targeted by anyone on its soil, has slammed Canada’s intent to downsize its mission, calling it “incomprehensible.” It has also accused Ottawa of feeding into the anti-Cuban hysteria in the US.
“This behavior favors those who in the United States use this issue to attack and denigrate Cuba,” the Cuban ambassador to Canada, Josefina Vidal, said in a statement.
“It is well known that some individuals with high-level positions within US foreign policy are trying very hard to create a climate of bilateral tension seeking to portray our country as a threat.”
Vidal noted that Cuban officials have been closely cooperating with their Canadian counterparts, providing all available evidence and their best experts to determine the root cause of the illness. The ambassador said in that in the course of the investigation, no evidence has been unearthed that supports the claims of any brain damage suffered by the embassy staff. There is also no evidence to indicate that the symptoms described by the diplomats developed during their stay in Cuba, Vidal said, noting that the move “fuels speculation and contrasts with the exchange held by both parties on the matter.”
She also argued that by cutting its staff in Havana and adjusting its non-consular services, the Canadian government is no closer to solving the medical riddle.
“This decision contrasts with the level, status and presence of Canadian diplomatic staff in other world capitals where they do not enjoy as much safety, tranquility, good health situation, and hospitality as in Cuba.”
The Canadian government’s move would follow a similar drastic downsizing by the US. Since March, the staff at the American embassy in Cuba has performed only core diplomatic and consular functions.
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