Fam­i­lies re­called from Cuba for mys­tery ail­ment

10 Cana­di­ans still show­ing brain symp­toms

Ottawa Citizen - - NEWS - Mike Blanchfield

OT­TAWA • The fam­i­lies of Cana­dian diplo­mats serv­ing in Cuba are be­ing re­called as a re­sponse to mys­te­ri­ous in­ci­dents which have plagued some staff and de­pen­dents.

The move comes af­ter 10 Cana­di­ans con­tinue to show un­ex­plained brain symp­toms, of­fi­cials say.

That num­ber in­cludes an un­known num­ber of chil­dren and non-diplo­mat fam­ily mem­bers, but gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials are giv­ing no fur­ther break­down, cit­ing pri­vacy con­cerns.

Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, who briefed jour­nal­ists on the con­di­tion of anonymity, say the on­go­ing prob­lems are rais­ing con­cerns about a new type of ac­quired brain in­jury, the cause of which re­mains a mys­tery. Of­fi­cials say the cause could be hu­man-made.

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

Havana has now been de­clared an “un­ac­com­pa­nied post” in the Cana­dian for­eign ser­vice — a des­ig­na­tion Cuba now shares with Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and South Su­dan.

Cuba is a favourite tourist des­ti­na­tion for Cana­di­ans, with more than one mil­lion vis­it­ing the Caribbean is­land an­nu­ally, but Global Af­fairs Canada says there is no ev­i­dence of any re­lated ail­ments among Cana­dian trav­ellers.

Canada is work­ing with the United States — many of whose per­son­nel in Havana also took ill — and Cuban au­thor­i­ties to try to solve the mys­tery. Cuba says it is not re­spon­si­ble for the un­ex­plained in­ci­dents, but the fall­out has led the U.S. to re­call many of its diplo­mats and ex­pel Cuban rep­re­sen­ta­tives from Wash­ing­ton.

Global Af­fairs Canada said the new sta­tus of the Havana mis­sion is the re­sult of an en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment of its staff hous­ing com­pleted in March that failed to turn up a cause. The de­ci­sion is also be­ing taken af­ter the trou­bling find­ings of a Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia study of U.S. diplo­matic staff.

“Ac­cord­ing to these spe­cial­ists, med­i­cal in­for­ma­tion raised con­cerns for a new type of ac­quired brain in­jury. Ad­di­tional re­search is needed to bet­ter un­der­stand this,” said a state­ment Mon­day from Global Af­fairs Canada.

“The cause re­mains un­known, but could be hu­man­made.”

Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials de­clined to give fur­ther de­tails of the new med­i­cal find­ings and re­ferred re­porters to the study it­self, which was pub­lished in Fe­bru­ary by the Jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion.

Canada and Cuba con­tinue to have “a pos­i­tive and con­struc­tive re­la­tion­ship” and have been co-op­er­at­ing to find a cause since prob­lems first sur­faced about a year ago, the state­ment said.

But of­fi­cials said Mon­day it re­mains a mys­tery that has no ap­par­ent prece­dent in diplo­matic af­fairs.

About 27 peo­ple from 10 diplo­matic fam­i­lies un­der­went test­ing when some com­plained of dizzi­ness, headaches and dif­fi­culty in con­cen­trat­ing.

The symp­toms de­vel­oped amid con­cern about pos­si­ble acous­tic at­tacks in 2016 and 2017, but of­fi­cials said Mon­day the the­ory of an acous­tic or sonic at­tack has been ruled out.

Cana­dian diplo­mats in Havana were told Mon­day of the changes, and of­fi­cials said they would be given time to eval­u­ate any fu­ture ca­reer de­ci­sions, given the ef­fect on their fam­i­lies.

Many of the em­bassy staff were due to ro­tate out and be re­placed this com­ing Au­gust, but now all those in­volved will be given time to re-eval­u­ate their next moves, of­fi­cials said.

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

THE CANA­DIAN PRESS/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS/FILES

The Cana­dian Em­bassy in Havana, Cuba, where diplo­matic staff and their fam­i­lies have de­vel­oped a range of mys­tery brain ail­ments of un­cer­tain ori­gin.

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