The Canadian government announced Wednesday that it will halve the number of diplomats at its embassy in Cuba after a 14th Canadian has mysteriously fallen ill with brain injuries there.
The latest case from December suggests that the enigmatic incidents—which began in late 2016 and have been considered by the US government to be attacks—are still ongoing, straining relations between Cuba and the US, and now Cuba and Canada.
Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s ambassador to Canada, called the decision Wednesday “incomprehensible.”
“This behavior favors those who in the United States use this issue to attack and denigrate Cuba,” she wrote in a statement. “It is well known that some individuals with high-level positions within US foreign policy are trying very hard to create a climate of bilateral tension seeking to portray our country as a threat.”
The latest confirmed Canadian case concerns a senior government official who arrived in Cuba over the summer and reported symptoms on December 29, officials said. Symptoms generally include nausea, dizziness, trouble concentrating, and headaches. Medical experts in the US with access to affected US cases confirmed the presences of mild traumatic brain injuries and described “injury to widespread brain networks without an associated history of head trauma.”
US officials have confirmed 26 American cases, many of which were associated with episodes involving unexplained, irritating sounds, pressure, and vibrations.
In September of 2017 and March of 2018, the US government announced pull-backs of diplomates from its embassy in Cuba, which is operating only with a skeleton crew.
Canada had not issued such draw-downs until now, working collaboratively with the Cuban government to try to identify the cause of the injuries. However, in April of 2018, the government designated Cuba as an “unaccompanied” post, meaning diplomats were not allowed to bring their families. With Wednesday’s announcement, staff at the Canadian embassy will go from about 16 positions to no more than eight.
Cuba is a popular tourist destination for Canadians, and the Canadian government noted that “[t]here is no evidence that Canadian travelers to Cuba are at risk.” The US government, on the other hand, has issued a level 2 travel advisory, urging travelers to “exercise increased caution.”
Conspiracies and crickets
Meanwhile, the three governments seem no closer to determining the cause of the injuries and illnesses, despite a wide range of ideas being floated. Scientists and experts have discussed the possibility that microwave assaults, sonic weapons, malfunctioning surveillance equipment, chemical agents, viruses, and mass delusions may be the cause.
In late 2017, a panel of Cuban scientists speculated that the noise associated with some of the injuries may have simply been crickets—the Jamaican field cricket (Gryllus assimilis) to be exact. This month, a US biologist and a British entomologist released a paper speculating that a different cricket—the Indies short-tailed cricket (Anurogryllus celerinictus)—may explain the noise. Neither theory provides an explanation for the brain injuries, however.
Cuba’s Vidal added in her statement that Canada’s decision to remove staff won’t help clear the air. “Cutting Canada’s staff at its Embassy in Cuba and adjusting the mission’s programs are actions that do not help find answers,” she wrote.
Since the reports of the mysterious incidents and ailments came to light in Cuba, US diplomats in China have reported similar experiences and injuries.