© Reuters. FILE PHOTO. U.S. Secretary Of State Antony Blinken, Washington State Department. U.S. October 14, 2021. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photograph
WASHINGTON (Reuters] – On Thursday, the State Department defended how it handled so-called Havana Syndrome complaints. It was prompted by a bipartisan group U.S. senators who expressed concerns that unexplained conditions were not being properly taken seriously.
It is thought that around 200 U.S. diplomatic staff, officials, family members, and diplomats overseas have succumbed to the mystery illness. The symptoms include migraines, nausea and memory lapses.
This syndrome first became publicized in 2016, after many diplomats in the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba complained. However, officials have yet to establish the exact cause of the disease or whether it is caused by an antagonist.
U.S. senators included the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Robert Menendez, a Democrat. James Risch was the ranking Republican on the committee and wrote to Antony Blinken Thursday about the topic. The senators urged Blinken to name a replacement for Ambassador Pamela Spratlen who was leading the investigation by the State Department into these incidents, but has resigned.
Senators requested that “you take this action now to demonstrate that State Department is serious about this matter and is coordinating an appropriate agency level response.”
Ned Price, a spokesperson for the State Department, responded to the correspondence during a regular media briefing. He stated that Blinken has “no higher priority than health, safety and security of our workforce, their families and dependents.” Blinken also stated that he had spoken with patients of the syndrome, and taken action to investigate.
Price explained that, for example, teams of occupational safety and security specialists from the State Department were sent to the sites where reports had been made about health incidents.
He added that “We take every report of an abnormal health incident exceptionally seriously.”
The Colombian foreign ministry reports that Blinken is scheduled to fly to Bogota next Tuesday. The Wall Street Journal reports that at least five relatives of the U.S. Embassy in Bogota have suffered from unspecified health issues.
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