Canada's embassy in Cuba cuts services after staff reductions due to mystery illness
Published Thursday, May 9, 2019 3:11PM EDT
Canada’s embassy in Cuba is no longer offering some services after a mysterious illness struck numerous diplomats, prompting staff reductions.
Services suspended at the Canadian mission in the Cuban capital of Havana include visitor visas, study and work permits and permanent residency interviews.
Cubans seeking those services will have to do so online or go to the closest Canadian embassy, with the visa office in Mexico City now processing applications from Cuba.
“The Embassy of Canada to Cuba will continue to accept all Canadian passport, proof of citizenship (citizenship certificate) and permanent resident travel document applications,” the Canadian government said in a statement.
So far 14 staff members at the embassy have suffered “unusual health symptoms” dubbed Havana Syndrome, prompting the government to reduce the number of staff posted there by half.
“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 Canada said in a statement.
“To date, no cause has been identified. We have had close cooperation with the Cuban authorities since the health concerns first surfaced in the spring of 2017.”
Diplomats and their families fell ill with a wide range of mysterious symptoms, including unexplained dizziness, nausea and sudden fatigue. Some woke up in the middle of the night with serious nosebleeds.
Twenty-six workers at the U.S. Embassy in Cuba have also been affected, suffering a range of symptoms and diagnoses, including concussion.
“There is no question that the health impacts on diplomats in Cuba have been visible and real,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in February.
“We’ve been taking it very, very seriously from the beginning and we will continue to take very seriously the health and safety of all Canadians who serve anywhere overseas.”
Canadian diplomats who were based in Havana are suing the federal government for $28 million in connection with the health issues consistent with traumatic brain injuries.
The group suing the government includes 15 people, five diplomatic staff and their families, who worked in Cuba between 2016 and 2018.
Global Affairs told CTV News that services for Canadians in Cuba seeking help with lost passports or similar issues will remain in place.
The reduction in embassy services in Havana will make it doubly difficult for Cubans to visit Canada, likely forcing them to visit a consulate in a third country to record biometrics and receive final approval, according to the Havana Times.
--- With files from The Associated Press