Why more than two dozen US diplomats sick in Cuba?

Several diplomats working at the US embassy in Cuba became ill. Have they undergone a new kind of "acoustic attack"? The US government suspects him. But the first medical results dismiss this assumption, without being able to clear the case that has cooled relations between the two countries.

What triggered the health problems of US diplomats in Cuba? The case remains rather nebulous although the first results of medical examinations carried out on the 21 diplomats (out of 24) who worked at the American embassy of Havana, begin to be revealed.

Preliminary results

According to a report from the US news agency AP, these results confirm that the staff examined has serious health problems: hearing loss, various neurological symptoms. But doctors have failed to determine the exact cause of these symptoms.

"Many of the symptoms are similar to a concussion, but without a history of head trauma," says Dr. Christopher Muth, co-author of the Penn's Center report for Brain Injury and Repair. These results are only preliminary because we have no information to compare the cerebral or auditory health of patients before leaving for Cuba. Consequence: before reaching final conclusions, we must obtain additional evidence and evaluate rigorously and objectively, "he warns, aware that the case is delicate and puts a brake in the diplomatic relations between Washington and La Havana while the US embassy had reopened in 2015 after 54 years of "cold war".

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A cold in diplomacy

It all started at the end of 2016. Several diplomats working at the embassy then report "physical symptoms," in the words of US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert when reveals the case at the beginning of August. As a result, some diplomats are immediately repatriated. The granting of US routine visas to Cuba is "suspended indefinitely".

On-site trips by US government officials are limited. This troubling affair throws a chill in diplomatic relations between the two countries that have already become very cold since the election of Donald Trump while Barack Obama was able to relax them.

The embarrassment is such that the US State Department first speaks of "incidents". Then the American administration evokes, then, "attacks". The idea of ​​a "sonic attack" of a new kind is advanced by a union of American diplomacy. But the doctors, charged with examining the diplomats, dismissed this hypothesis.

"There is no known mechanism that allows audible sound to damage the brain. We must suspect that it is a consequence of something else, "they say. But what ? For the moment, the mystery remains intact.

Brain damage and hearing loss

The CBC channel revealed that five Canadian nationals and their families would also be affected. Symptoms diagnosed include "mild traumatic brain injury and permanent hearing loss" but also "loss of balance, acute migraines, cognitive impairment and cerebral edema. "

It also appears that the affected people were not in the same place at the same time but have similar symptoms. "None of this has a reasonable explanation. We are going from mystery to mystery, "a former CIA official told the AP agency, the US intelligence agency investigating the case.

Washington holds Havana responsible for the safety of its diplomats. But the Cuban authorities deny any involvement. They announced that they have launched a "comprehensive, priority and urgent" survey. The Americans are conducting their own investigation on their side, with the help of the Cuban authorities.

For the moment, none of the investigations has identified the cause of this mysterious disease. The investigation continues "in a dynamic way," says Rex Tillerson. The US Secretary of State did not go so far as to close the embassy, ​​one of the options he had studied. It confirms the maintenance of diplomatic relations with Cuba, presenting the reminder of diplomats as a preventive measure to protect them.

For his part, Josefina Vidal, head of US relations at the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs, quoted in the Cuban TV news, also recalled "Cuba's willingness to continue active cooperation between the authorities of the two countries to fully clear this case. "

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