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This month marks the 14th Canadian diplomat to become ill while working in the Canadian embassy in Cuba. In total 27 diplomats and their families have reported contracting a type of mysterious illness in the same way their American counterparts in Cuba have also been experiencing. The symptoms include nausea, dizziness, headaches, nose bleeds, and trouble concentrating. The complaints began back in the spring of 2017; Canadian diplomats simultaneously began to experience the same symptoms and were complaining about a strange sonic boom like noise around the time the symptoms started. The victims realized that they could be suffering from the “Havana Syndrome” the term that explains the mysterious illness that had previously affected around 24 American diplomats and their families while in Cuba.
While Canada has quietly taken small measures to reduce risk, by reducing the size of diplomats in Cuban from 16 to 8, and only providing essential services, and removed those affected for medical treatment, the American government began very publicly, conducting studies at the University of Pennsylvania to test 21 of the diplomats that were affected. The results found no evidence of an attack but more consistent along the lines of a “persistent concussion,” said Douglas Smith, the director of the center for brain and injury repair. Therefore, recovery time, if any, would greatly depend on the individual’s health, in some cases resulting in permanent brain damage, and other long term side effects. Others criticize the American studies, including Robert Bartholomew, who is an expert in mass psychogenic illness (MPI) saying, “that it reads like US government propaganda.” The study tries to explain what caused the illnesses with the goal of proving it was an energy sourced attack. Mitchell Valdés-Sosa, director of the Cuban Center for Neurosciences, also criticizes the American study saying that other explanations have been dismissed too soon. Valdes-sosa instead believes that some of the diplomats had actual medical illnesses that were unknown, which in turn sparked fear of attacks leading to the community developing mass psychogenic illness.
With America taking swift action with investigations and studies being conducted, the Canadian diplomats felt as if the Canadian government was lacking or even forgetting about them. The diplomats believe threat the Canadian government and foreign ministry had not made their cases a priority, and have been largely silent on the matter in the public. Once back in Canada, some diplomats found it extremely hard if not impossible to access the specialized medical care they required for their mysterious illness. “We did not expect to be abandoned, or more precisely, sacrificed—that’s how we’re feeling now,” one of the diplomats was quoted saying. The Canadian government may be staying quiet for strategical purposes; some of those who have been affected believe that Canada wants to maintain friendly relations with Cuba.
No matter what the cause of the mysterious illness, the Canadian government needs to do more to protect its diplomats and other occupations that involved working abroad. The Canadian government should have responded in a more active way with the diplomats and their families, by conducting their own studies on the individuals affected. The Canadian government should be more vocal on this issue with the public and keep working with the Cuban government to find the causation of the illness. The Canadian government should also make specialized medical treatment accessible to those affecting in Cuba. Unless the Canadian government changes its passive approach in solving the mysterious illness that is affecting Canadian diplomats in Cuba and provides more support for those who are permanently affected in the long term, relations between the foreign affairs ministry and its Canadian diplomats will continue to be strained.