Canada confirms 14th case of diplomat falling mysteriously ill in Cuba

Number of employees in country will be cut

By PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN
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(CNN) - Canada has confirmed a 14th case of unusual health symptoms experienced by diplomatic staff in Havana, Cuba.

In a statement, the Canadian government acknowledged the case, and announced that diplomatic staff in Cuba would be halved. The number of diplomats at the Canadian embassy in Cuba will now be reduced from 16 to eight, according to a Canadian government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

"The health, safety and security of our diplomatic staff and their families remain our priority," the statement said. "The Canadian government continues to investigate the potential causes of the unusual health symptoms experienced by some Canadian diplomatic staff and their family members posted in Havana, Cuba. To date, no cause has been identified."

Cuban ambassador to Canada Josefina Vidal criticized the decision to cut staff as an "incomprehensible" move that "fuels speculation." "This behavior favors those who in the United States use this issue to attack and denigrate Cuba," she said. She emphasized Cuba's cooperation in investigating the symptoms and affirmed the country's commitment to good relations.

The Canadian statement said that after the last confirmed case of unusual health symptoms in November 2018, a number of Canadian diplomatic staff in Cuba 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."

In April, Canada pulled all nonessential staff and diplomats' family members, after testing concluded that their diplomats also suffered from mystery symptoms that included dizziness, ringing in the ears and memory loss.

The Canadian government said Wednesday there is no evidence that Canadian travelers to Cuba are at risk.

Mystery symptoms among diplomats in Cuba

The US embassy in Cuba had previously cut staffing after its own diplomats suffered mysterious illnesses, which some US officials initially thought were the result of "sonic weapons" that emitted a powerful beam of energy causing neurological problems. The US said that 26 American diplomats and family members were affected.

According to a study published in the medical journal JAMA in March 2018, a majority of 21 affected patients reported problems with memory, concentration, balance, eyesight, hearing, sleeping or headaches that lasted more than three months. Three people eventually needed hearing aids for moderate to severe hearing loss, and others had ringing or pressure in their ears.

In early January, a British and an American scientist released research theorizing that the sound stemmed from noises made by the Indies short-tailed cricket. The research has not been peer-reviewed.

Cuban-Canadian relations

While Cold War-era tensions continue to haunt the US-Cuba relationship, Canada's dealings with Havana have been a model of cooperation. Canadian tourists flock to Cuban beaches in the winter and Canadian companies help the Cuban government mine for nickel.

Former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, the father of the current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, traveled frequently to Havana and was a close friend to former Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

Cuba has allowed investigators from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the FBI to travel to Cuba to look into the incidents. Cuba is also investigating the cases, and Cuban officials have said repeatedly they have not carried out or permitted any third countries to attack foreign diplomats on Cuban territory.

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