Havana Ooh No No: A Diplomatic Disorder


What is Havana syndrome?

Havana syndrome is a series of unexplained medical symptoms  affecting diplomats, intelligence officers, and civilians in Havana, Cuba since late 2016. Since the initial outbreak, hundreds of US federal agents and their families have been afflicted. The most common symptoms are auditory hallucinations, dizziness, memory loss, anxiety, nausea, fatigue, and cognitive difficulties. In a study done including forty victims, all forty showed signs of brain damage. Perhaps most concerningly, this malady has no known cause.


What causes Havana syndrome?

There are several theories surrounding Havana syndrome, ranging from environmental factors to weaponized microwaves. The environmental theory was one of the first theories to pop up because a majority of auditory hallucinations reported could have been attributed to crickets native to Cuba. The Indes Short tailed cricket was originally blamed for making the sound that victims of Havana syndrome hear. However, this theory only accounts for the auditory hallucinations, but it doesn’t explain the nausea, dizziness, migraines etc. While it may definitely be possible that this is one of the causes, it cannot be the only one.   

Another explanation that has been explored is stress. Stress can wreak havoc on the body. If left unchecked, it can lead to physical symptoms and mental illnesses, and perhaps, the Havana syndrome may be one of them. There were rumors of the sufferers having the symptoms “all in the mind”. This may explain several of the symptoms, more so than the crickets theory, but it does not account for some of the more perplexing symptoms. For example, a career officer of the US, Ambassador Stoessel, developed Havana syndrome and experienced bleeding of the eyes. This is unlikely to have been caused either by stress or the crickets.

 The lack of natural causes has made people suspect more directed attacks. Russia has a history of using microwaves against the US to disturb intelligence operations, and the microwaves are thought to be a cause of Havana syndrome. Some argue that the pulsed electromagnetic energy causes the observed symptoms. However, while there is no real evidence for this besides speculation, it may explain some of the more violent symptoms that can not be explained by other theories. 


What is being done about Havana syndrome?

Financial and medical aid has been sent to Havana syndrome victims through the Helping American Victims Affected by Neurological Attacks (HAVANA) Act. The NIH is also currently conducting research about Havana syndrome.



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