OTTAWA – Canada is reconsidering its diplomatic presence in Cuba following another unexplained illness among embassy staff.
Government representatives will travel to Havana next week to begin a review, and while it is too early to say what steps might be taken, all options are on the table, a senior official said Thursday.
“It’s difficult to speculate even on the breadth of the options that are out there.”
Canadian government officials provided a briefing on the latest developments on condition of anonymity.
Since last year eight diplomats posted to the Canadian Embassy in Havana, as well as five dependants, have come down with a mysterious illness that causes symptoms including nausea, dizziness, headaches and trouble concentrating.
Global Affairs says the government is trying to pinpoint the cause, stressing that the health and safety of diplomatic staff and their families is the priority.
The department says the person who fell ill most recently reported symptoms in early summer and underwent medical tests that confirmed the condition.
Global Affairs said last January of that a total of 27 people from 10 diplomatic families had undergone testing.
In April, Canada announced that diplomats posted to Cuba would not be accompanied by dependants due to the ongoing uncertainty. Twelve Canadian diplomats are currently in Havana.
A doctor is now working full time to provide advice and assistance to those who have continuing symptoms.
The RCMP is leading an investigation into the cause of the ailments, which also struck several American diplomats in Havana. A spokeswoman for the Mounties declined to comment on the probe.
Speculation has focused on some kind of acoustic or microwave assault, unknown contaminants and even chirping crickets. Officials have all but ruled out environmental factors, such as toxins in the air, soil or water, and no longer suspect a sonic attack is to blame. Canada has been working with the U.S. and Cuban authorities on the vexing puzzle.
“From the beginning, the government of Cuba has been co-operating,” a Canadian official said Thursday. “Cuba has expressed their desire to get to the bottom of the cause of these health conditions.”
Pamela Isfeld, president of the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers, said the emergence of another case is “very upsetting news” and the union is trying to ensure Global Affairs continues to take all reasonable measures to ensure health and safety.
“The fact that no cause has been found, and therefore no definitive treatment or mitigation measures can be identified, is deeply frustrating to all concerned.”
Ottawa acknowledged in August 2017 that an unspecified number of Canadians in Havana had been affected.
But as early as May of last year, Canada’s mission in Havana was seeking help in working out next steps for Canadian staff having problems, according to records that became public through the Access to Information Act.