Canada to reduce staff at Cuba embassy after another diplomat falls ill

January 30, 2019

By Anna Mehler Paperny

TORONTO (Reuters) – Canada has decided to cut the number of diplomatic staff in Cuba by up to half after another person fell ill, Ottawa said on Wednesday, bringing the total to 14 Canadians suffering mysterious symptoms since 2017.

Canadian and U.S. diplomats in Havana first began complaining of dizziness, headaches and nausea in the spring of 2017. The United States reduced embassy staffing in Cuba from more than 50 to a maximum of 18, after more than two dozen personnel developed unusual illnesses.

“A further reduction in the (Canadian embassy) footprint is deemed to be the appropriate response,” a Canadian government official told reporters.

The November incident was the first new Canadian case reported in months, leading to the decision to evacuate much of the remaining staff. Spouses and dependents left last year.

The Cuban government has been cooperating with a Canadian investigation into the cause of the illnesses, which has not been determined.

“I think I can safely say the Cuban officials are as frustrated as we are that we cannot get any closer to determining a cause,” the official said.

Canada is one of Cuba’s most important economic partners. More than a million Canadians visited the Caribbean island last year, making it the most important tourism market, as it has been for decades.

Canada is also among Cuba’s 10 top trade partners, with Canada-Cuba trade totaling $790 million in 2017. This is Cuba’s only trade partnership where the trade balance is in the country’s favor, according to the latest Cuban trade figures.

That is due to a joint venture between Canadian company Sherritt International and state nickel monopoly Cubaniquel, which produces around 60 percent of the island’s nickel plus cobalt, which is then shipped to a joint venture in Canada for refining.

(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny in Toronto; Additional reporting by Marc Frank in Havana; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and James Dalgleish)