What is Havana syndrome? Why is US compensating its Embassy staff?

Amrutha Pagad
Amrutha PagadAug 26, 2022 | 17:08

What is Havana syndrome? Why is US compensating its Embassy staff?

US has started compensating Havana syndrome victims. Photo: Getty Images

Havana is the capital of Cuba. It's the place that's inspired several songs and more (cue Camila Cabello's Havana). But the place has inspired more than just songs; it has also inspired the name of a mysterious illness affecting mostly American diplomats and intelligence officials - the Havana syndrome. 

In 2021, the Biden government signed into law the Havana Act, to promise certain victims compensation for their suffering and medical costs. Fast forward to August 2022, the New York Times reported that the CIA has started compensating the victims of the mysterious illness. 


Who's being compensated? Earlier this year, reports said that the Biden government had decided on a six-figure sum (around $140,000 or $187,000) to pay victims of Havana syndrome. But not every government official who reported the illness was eligible for the compensation. Only those who were ascertained by doctors to have suffered a debilitating brain injury and trauma were eligible for it. The terms of which are still unclear. 

What is Havana syndrome? Now, this is where it gets trickier. There is no conclusive evidence that the illness even exists, what causes it, and more. It is just a name that was given after several American diplomats and other intelligence officers stationed in Havana, Cuba's capital started reporting bouts of the mysterious illness ripping specifically through their circle in 2016. 

Later, the same illness was reported among officials stationed outside of Cuba and in countries like China. 


What are the symptoms? The victims experienced headaches, migraines, dizziness, nausea, depression, forgetfulness etc. For some, the symptoms became so severe that they had to be evacuated on medical grounds. They were then bounced from one health institution to another in the US to try to figure out what had exactly happened. 

What causes Havana syndrome? When the first few cases were reported in 2016, conspiracy theories started floating around that enemy spies like Russian government agents or Cuban agents had targetted American officials using high-energy sources or microwave weapons. However, so far, this theory has not been found conclusive. 

There is still a big question mark when it comes to the Havana syndrome:

Is it even real? 


Yes, some reports say that it could be the result of people redefining mundane "ambiguous symptoms under a new label or exhibit health complaints that are generated by anxiety". So, while the symptoms the victims describe may not be fake, it may also not be a result of spies firing some mysterious energy gun. But again, nothing has been proven. 

Collective hysteria or high-stress job or just the mere rumours of spies with energy guns driving the mania? We don't know. 

Nonetheless, the Biden government's idea of compensation is also fraught as it gets to decide which victims get the money and which doesn't.

Last updated: August 26, 2022 | 17:08
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