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The U.S. Embassy in Colombia is investigating several cases of the mysterious neurological condition known as Havana Syndrome, U.S. officials said, days before Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s scheduled visit.
In emails to embassy staff, sent by Ambassador Philip Goldberg and others and reviewed by the Wall Street Journal, the State Department pledged to handle the matter “seriously, objectively and sensitively.” as he strives to determine who is affected.
At least five American families have fallen ill, people familiar with the matter said in BogotÃ¡, the Colombian capital.
Embassy staff were first alerted to an “unexplained health incident” by email in mid-September. A subsequent email, dated October 1, informed embassy staff that the regional security office was investigating “additional abnormal health incidents,” the term used by the US government to refer to the disease.
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The October email added that “there is no stigma in reporting any health-related incident where the underlying causes are not known.”
The US Embassy in BogotÃ¡ is one of the largest US in the world, with strong intelligence and anti-drug operations aimed at thwarting cocaine trafficking operations in the region and fighting the regime. left wing from neighboring Venezuela. The news that people at the embassy had been targeted deeply worried workers at the huge American compound, which sits on a main thoroughfare not far from BogotÃ¡ airport.
A US official said there were at least two known cases, both US citizens, but others familiar with the cases said several others were reportedly affected. The official said at least one family has been expelled from the country for treatment and concerns have intensified in recent days.
“There was a family with one minor affected,” said a person with knowledge of the situation at the embassy. âAdults sign up for what they sign up for and the risks that come with itâ¦. Targeting or even accidentally hitting kids should be a hard red line.â
Mr Blinken is expected to travel to Bogota next week as part of a quick tour of Latin America, several officials said. The U.S. Embassy in Bogota declined to comment.
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State Department spokesman Ned Price declined to comment on reports of Havana Syndrome cases in BogotÃ¡, citing confidentiality. He said the State Department is working to ensure that all people receive the “prompt care they need” when they think they are showing symptoms, as well as taking broader action, in terms communication, care, detection and protection of its workforce.
If verified, the attacks would be the latest to coincide with overseas trips by senior US officials. In August, Vice President Kamala Harris delayed her arrival in Vietnam after reports of an incident targeting a US official there. Last month, an assistant traveling to India with the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, William Burns, reported symptoms and received medical attention, a US official said.
Unexplained health incidents are known as Havana Syndrome because they first appeared among US diplomats and intelligence officers in Cuba in late 2016. Symptoms include dizziness, headache, dizziness, fatigue, nausea, anxiety, cognitive difficulties, ringing in the head and memory loss.
Since then, attacks have also been reported in China, Austria, Germany and Serbia, where the CIA recently evacuated an intelligence officer who suffered serious injuries consistent with Havana Syndrome. While around 200 U.S. government workers have been affected, officials warn that an accurate tally is difficult to determine as each case needs to be medically verified and some individuals’ symptoms end up having other explanations.
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Five years after the first symptoms appeared, the US government has yet to determine who is behind the attacks and what mechanism (s) are used.
Some of the affected families initially believed they were suffering from altitude sickness, since BogotÃ¡ is located more than 8,600 feet above sea level, said a diplomat in BogotÃ¡ familiar with the matter. Now some families are living in hotels as the embassy tests their apartments.
Another person with knowledge of the details of the cases said intelligence officials were among those involved. The person did not know how many people were affected, but said it was not a large number of people.
Victims of what are believed to be attacks heard squeaking or felt vibrations in their heads, confusing officials who still could not identify the source. âThe whole situation is weird,â the person said.