Canada pulls families of diplomats in Cuba amid unusual illnesses

Tuesday, 17 Apr, 2018

The families of Canadian diplomats serving in Cuba are being recalled as a response to mysterious incidents which have plagued some staff and dependents. In some cases, the symptoms have lessened in intensity before returning, the official said.

Due to the uncertainty, Canada's embassy in Cuba will be designated as an unaccompanied post, meaning diplomats will not be stationed with their families, the government said in a separate statement.

Spouses, children, or even parents of Canadian diplomats now accompanying them in Havana will begin leaving the Cuban capital immediately.

OTTAWA-Canadian diplomats and their family members who suffered health problems during their postings in Cuba may have suffered brain injuries and the cause may have been man-made, a federal official says.

Canadian medical specialists, working with American counterparts who have been studying US diplomats who suffered similar health problems are now working on the theory that they have suffered a "new type of possible acquired brain injury".

The foreign ministry said Canada has a "positive and constructive relationship" with Cuba and has received close cooperation from the Cuban authorities since the health concerns surfaced in Canadians last spring. The decision is also being taken after the troubling findings of a University of Pennsylvania study of US diplomatic staff.

Canadian and U.S. authorities had initially suspected a "sonic attack" or a "mass psychosomatic incident", which led to heightened diplomatic tensions between Washington and the Caribbean island nation, but those are "now considered unlikely", the senior official said.

Canada is still investigating the cause of the symptoms that were first reported by Canadians connected to the Havana embassy in 2017 and have also affected U.S. diplomats in Cuba. Fifteen Canadian staff now work at the embassy, but Global Affairs Canada says the staffing level is also under review.

An official told reporters that the Canadians affected have suffered concussion-like symptoms that include dizziness, nausea, headaches and trouble concentrating.

"The cause (of their symptoms) remains unknown but could be human-made", the government concluded.

The symptoms appear to have affected only Canadian and American personnel, and there have been no signs travelers could be at risk, the official said.

The Cuban embassy in Ottawa did not respond to a request for comment on Monday.