May 26, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Diplomats urge State Department to improve treatment for "Havana Syndrome"

A massive concrete Cuban flag being build in front of the U.S. Embassy in Havana, in April 2021.
A massive concrete Cuban flag being build in front of the U.S. Embassy in Havana, in April 2021.

U.S. diplomats and other government staffers experiencing symptoms consistent with "Havana Syndrome" sent a letter to the State Department on Tuesday raising concerns that some injured workers are still being denied proper care, according to NBC News.

Context: Havana Syndrome is used to describe mysterious brain injuries suffered by embassy staff in Cuba in late 2016 and the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou, China, in early 2017.

  • The cause of the injuries is currently unknown, but experts have floated the possibility of directed microwave radiation attacks by U.S. adversaries, infectious diseases, exposure to pesticides or specific cricket noises and mass psychogenic illness.
  • The New York Times reported this month that more than 130 cases of Havana Syndrome among overseas U.S. personnel have now been reported, and that the National Security Council has begun an intelligence review.
  • Canada's government has confirmed 14 of its citizens also fell ill in Cuba's capital, according to the Ottawa Citizen.

Driving the news: The letter from group of 21 U.S. government workers and their spouses alleges that since the Biden administration took office, the U.S. government has continued to "reject scientific evidence regarding the injuries and treatment needs" and "invalidate our injuries and experiences."

  • The group adds that military and intelligence personnel "have had a different level and frequency of engagement" about their treatment.

What they're saying: "After four years of challenges, we were hopeful that the new administration would welcome a partnership with us to ensure those affected receive the care and treatment they need and ensure appropriate care for the new cases," the letter reads.

  • "Unfortunately, our experience thus far has fallen short of our renewed expectations," it continues.
  • "Senior Department leadership's continued refusal to meet with and hear directly from its injured personnel is discouraging."

The big picture: Alongside the letter, the group sent a list of 11 recommendations for the department that included the creation of care and response plans for future employees who become injured. A State Department spokesperson told NBC that the agency is aware of the letter and views the situation as a "priority."

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