Canadian diplomats will remain in Cuba as the United States withdraws more than half of its staff from its Havana embassy and warns Americans against visiting the island after diplomats – including Canadians – suffered unexplained health problems caused by mysterious targeted attacks.
About 60 per cent of staff at the U.S. embassy in Havana will be withdrawn in response to "specific attacks" that left diplomats with headaches, dizziness and hearing loss, senior American officials told The Associated Press. The Department of State also issued a new travel warning for Cuba on Friday.
"The governments of the United States and Cuba have not yet identified the responsible party, but the government of Cuba is responsible for taking all appropriate steps to prevent attacks on our diplomatic personnel and U.S. citizens in Cuba," the statement said.
"Because our personnel's safety is at risk, and we are unable to identify the source of the attacks, we believe U.S. citizens may also be at risk and warn them not to travel to Cuba."
Global Affairs Canada said it has no reason to believe Canadian tourists and other visitors are at risk, adding that it has no plans to change its travel advisory for Cuba or remove diplomatic staff.
Since March, Canadian diplomats and their families in Cuba have also experienced unexplained hearing loss, dizziness and headaches that are believed to have been caused by "audio trauma," according to a Canadian government official. The affected individuals returned to their postings in Cuba after tests showed they were fine and had experienced no permanent damage, said the official, adding that there have been no new incidents since.
While the Canadian official said multiple diplomats and their families were affected, they could not say exactly how many for privacy reasons.
Nearly a year after U.S. diplomats began reporting strange symptoms, investigators still don't know who or what is behind the attacks. At least 21 diplomats and their families were harmed, suffering a range of physical symptoms including hearing loss, dizziness, headache, fatigue, cognitive issues and difficulty sleeping.
The attacks against the U.S. diplomats occurred in their residences and hotels frequented by American citizens, according to the Department of State. Some diplomats reported hearing loud noises or feeling vibrations when the incidents occurred, while others heard and felt nothing, AP reported.
The Canadian official said that the RCMP continues to investigate the incidents in collaboration with U.S. and Cuban officials, noting that Cuba has been co-operative. It's not clear if the symptoms experienced by the Canadian and American diplomats were related.
The U.S. decision Friday sets back its already-delicate relationship with Cuba. After 54 years of severed diplomatic relations, the United States reopened its Havana embassy in 2015 as a part of former president Barack Obama's effort to restore ties with Cuba. Canada helped facilitate talks between the two countries that led to the reestablishment of relations.
In a statement, Cuba's General-Director for U.S. Affairs Josefina Vidal Ferreiro said the Cuban government is not responsible for the alleged incidents and that it respects its obligations under the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations with regard to the protection of diplomats and their families.
"We consider that the decision announced by the Department of State is hasty and that it will affect the bilateral relations, specifically, the co-operation in matters of mutual interest and the exchanges on different fields between both countries," said Ms. Vidal Ferreiro.
Canada established diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1945. It was only one of two countries in the hemisphere – the other being Mexico – that did not break relations with the Caribbean nation in the years that followed the Cuban revolution in 1959, according to Global Affairs Canada's website.
With files from The Associated Press