In a recent report, researchers concluded that generic symptoms are being manipulated to create a narrative about the existence of a new disease.
Written by Lucas Leiroz, research fellow in international law at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
Washington continues to insist on the existence of a “syndrome” that affects its diplomats in Cuba and China. In addition to the complete lack of scientific evidence in the alleged cases of reported health problems, there is a strong conspiratorial content in the accusations against the Cuban and Chinese governments – which, according to US officials, are using microwave weapons to attack American and Canadian diplomats. In this debate, which confronts not only different geopolitical interests, but also science and conspiracy theories, new international tensions have arisen every day.
What has come to be commonly called the “Havana syndrome” is an alleged clinical phenomenon in which patients report symptoms such as tinnitus, nausea, and severe headaches, often resulting in critical hearing and cognitive damage. It would be almost irrelevant to public opinion if these symptoms were reported by ordinary patients, but they are mostly American and Canadian diplomats and officials based in Havana. The mysterious “disease” became worldly known in 2017, some months after the first alleged cases were reported, in the previous year. In 2018, some cases also began to be reported on Chinese soil. Last month, Kamala Harris delayed her scheduled trip to Vietnam after reports of the syndrome in the Asian country.
In a report published by the US State Department in December 2020, American investigators concluded that the “real” cause of the assumed cases of the mysterious “syndrome” that has affected diplomats in Havana and Beijing since 2016 was the action of “microwave radiation weapons”, which are supposedly being used to direct attacks against American and Canadian citizens abroad. Since then, several criticisms have been made to the report, mainly regarding the uncertainties about the investigative method used. Now, Cuba is formally responding to the accusations.
Investigators from the Cuban Academy of Sciences have recently stated that there is no evidence to support the claims made in the Washington’s report. Unlike American research, whose methods remain dubious and obscure, Havana formed a team of scientists that included neurologists, physicists, psychologists and otorhinologists to carry out the investigation.
At the end of the research, a detailed and conclusive report was prepared, being published in the “Cubadebate” newspaper, where we can read: “Neither the Cuban police, nor the FBI, nor the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have discovered evidence of ‘attacks’ on diplomats in Havana despite intense investigations… We conclude that the narrative of the ‘mysterious syndrome’ is not scientifically acceptable in any of its components (…) No known form of energy can selectively cause brain damage (with laser-like precision) under the conditions described for the alleged incidents in Havana”.
One of the main conclusions of the Cuban report is that such “syndrome” pointed out by Washington, apparently, does not refer to a single phenomenon. Symptoms such as nosebleeds, nausea, headaches, and tinnitus can be associated with different diseases of completely distinct causes. What Washington is doing is simply pointing out common symptoms as a single disease and using this narrative to make accusations against some of its main geopolitical rivals. Furthermore, the Cubans pointed out that the alleged operations with microwave radiation suggested by the Americans violate some basic laws of physics, which is why such allegations could not be considered credible.
It is also necessary to say that Cuban researchers asked Washington for access to scientific data allegedly collected that led American scientist to reach the conclusions announced in December of last year. Acting undiplomatically, Washington denied. So, if there is in fact any data that points to something different from the conclusions reached by the Cubans, the investigators simply could not access it.
It is important to remember that recently CIA Director William Burns accused Russia of being behind the enigmatic microwave attacks. Moscow called the statements “totally absurd”. However, Washington seems to be interested in investing more and more in the narrative that there are indeed planned attacks against its agents abroad, resulting in a terrible and mysterious illness.
This seems quite in keeping with the recent rise in anti-scientific accusations made by Washington against its international rivals. The narrative that Beijing developed the new coronavirus in laboratory, for example, is another sign that scientific plausibility no longer puts an end to the war of narratives that the US has declared on its opponents. By pointing to the existence of a syndrome caused by microwave attacks, the US government has come to accuse its enemy countries of possessing advanced technology of which there is no evidence of existing. Officially, a conspiracy theory is guiding part of American foreign policy and causing changes in the country’s diplomacy – such as the reduction of diplomatic staff in countries where there are cases of the “disease”, for example.
Health cannot be politicized, and science cannot be diminished in favor of political interests. It is important that the international society intervenes in the case and that the alleged syndrome is investigated in an impartial way by experts from around the world, to conclude if it is in fact a new disease emerging or if isolated cases of symptoms common to pre-existing diseases are being manipulated to generate a new political narrative.