Canada reducing Canadian staff at Cuba embassy by half
TORONTO (AP) — Canada announced Wednesday it is removing up to half of the Canadians at its embassy in Cuba after another diplomat fell mysteriously ill.
Canada has confirmed 14 cases of unexplained health problems since early 2017. Twenty-six workers at the U.S. Embassy in Cuba have also been affected, suffering a range of symptoms and diagnoses including mild traumatic brain injury, also known as concussion.
Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s ambassador in Canada, issued a statement saying her government considered the move “incomprehensible,” but “Cuba remains committed to keeping the good state of bilateral relations.”
Global Affairs Canada said in a statement Wednesday that tests confirmed a 14th case.
Canada said in November it was considering all options regarding its embassy in Cuba after a 13th case was confirmed. Canada is going from about 16 positions for Canadian staff at the Havana embassy to up to eight.
Canada ordered the families of diplomatic staff in Cuba to return home last April. The 14 Canadians affected includes diplomats and some of their family members. A senior Canadian government official said in a briefing for journalists that the latest case involves a diplomat who arrived in the summer and reported symptoms on Dec. 29. The official said recent confirmed cases demonstrate that these incidents are still ongoing.
Canada will continue to have an ambassador in Havana and officials said full consular services will be available to Canadians. But officials said other programs may be adjusted in the coming weeks and diplomatic staff from outside Cuba might assist.
Cuba is a favorite tourist destination for Canadians and the Canadian government said there is no evidence of any related ailments among Canadian travelers.
A senior Canadian government official said in the briefing that Cuba has been cooperating from the beginning and said Cuban officials are as frustrated as Canadian officials. One official said Canadian relations with Cuba are very strong. Canadian government officials provided a briefing on the latest developments on condition of anonymity.
Cuba has adamantly denied any involvement in the health problem.
Vidal, the Cuban ambassador, said reducing the embassy staff would “not help find answers to the health symptoms reported by Canadian diplomats.” She said the reduction also would help “those who in the United States use this issue to attack and denigrate Cuba.”
The mysterious case has sent U.S.-Cuba relations plummeting from what had been a high point when the two countries, estranged for a half century, restored full diplomatic ties under President Barack Obama in 2015.
The U.S. withdrew most of its non-essential diplomatic staff in September 2017 but Canada did not.
Kimberly Breier, the current U.S. assistant secretary of state for the region, noted the latest confirmed Canadian injury in a tweet.
“Our thoughts are with all those affected from Canada and the U.S. We demand the Cuban government fulfill its obligation to protect foreign diplomats & their families,” Breier tweeted.
A Canadian official said government officials are working closely with U.S. officials. The U.S. has not said what caused the incidents, although initial speculation centered on some type of sonic attack. The Canadian official said they have no information to indicate a cause or what might or who might be behind it.