Canada said Wednesday it is reducing its diplomatic staff in Cuba by as much as half, after a 14th diplomat was found with symptoms consistent with a mysterious illness that has affected dozens of diplomatic personnel.
The decision was made out of concern for the health, safety and security of the country’s diplomatic staff and their families. The illnesses date back to early 2017, according to Global Affairs Canada, the government department that manages diplomatic relations.
“The Canadian government continues to investigate the potential causes of the unusual health symptoms experienced by some Canadian diplomatic staff and their family members posted in Havana, Cuba,” Global Affairs said in a statement. “To date, no cause has been identified.”
The exact number of the planned staff reductions is not clear. A Canadian government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told CNN the number of diplomats will be reduced from 16 to eight, but the Canadian government has not confirmed this.
Canada’s embassy in Havana is expected to remain open, with full consular services for Canadians. It will remain headed by an ambassador, but some programs may be adjusted in the coming weeks, Global Affairs Canada said.
Cuban Ambassador to Canada Josefina Vidal criticized Canada’s decision, arguing that it will harm foreign relations and unjustly paint Cuba as a threat.
Last fall, U.S. and Cuban officials met at the State Department to discuss the mysterious health problems that have affected more than two dozen American Embassy personnel.
Symptoms of the unknown illness include hearing loss, ringing in the ears, vertigo, headaches and fatigue, a pattern consistent with mild traumatic brain injury, State Department officials have said.
Some of those affected said they had heard strange, high-pitched noises and felt a high-pressure sensation in their homes and hotel rooms in Cuba. A number of possible explanations have been advanced, including sonic attacks, microwave weapons and even crickets.
Doctors who examined some of the U.S. diplomats affected said they all had damage to a part of the inner ear that’s responsible for balance, conflicting with doctors in Cuba who suggested the cause was stress, The New York Times reported in December.
“These people were injured,” said Dr. Michael Hoffer, director of the University of Miami’s Vestibular and Balance Program and lead author of the study that reported the pattern of inner-ear damage. “We’re not sure how. The injury resulted in ear damage and some trouble thinking.”