Loads of tourists outside of Floridita, a historic seafood restaurant and cocktail bar famous for being one of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite hangouts in Havana.

Artur Widak | NurPhoto | Getty Images

WASHINGTON – The State Department announced Thursday that while it is investigating mysterious neurological symptoms reported by American diplomats in Cuba, it will appoint a new high-level advisor to deal with future incidents.

“This advisor will be in a senior position and will report directly to senior management to ensure, as stated, that we continue to take significant steps to address this issue and to ensure that our employees receive the treatment they need. ” State spokesman Ned Price told reporters on Thursday.

Price said the investigation was a high priority for Secretary Antony Blinken and the matter was one of the first briefings he requested from the transition team.

“We have no higher priority than the safety of US personnel, their families and other US citizens, of course in this country and around the world,” he added when asked about the special episodes of the US diplomats experienced in Cuba.

In 2016, U.S. diplomats and their support staff stationed in Havana reported strange noises, steady pressure pulses in their heads, and a range of other bizarre physical sensations. In some cases, diplomats noticed a severe deterioration in their hearing and eyesight. Canadian diplomats performing missions in Havana also reported similar symptoms.

Doctors hired by the State Department said brain scans of 21 affected U.S. workers showed structural changes in the brain that were not identified or linked to a known disorder.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs gradually evacuated most of its diplomatic staff from Havana until 2018.

In August 2020, the travel advice for Cuba was raised to level 4, the highest warning, amid Covid-19 concerns.

The following warning was included in the travel advice:

Numerous employees of the US Embassy in Havana suffered verifiable and sometimes debilitating injuries while serving in Havana.

Affected individuals have exhibited a range of physical symptoms, including ear discomfort and hearing loss, dizziness, headaches, fatigue, cognitive problems, vision problems, and difficulty sleeping.

We continue to investigate how the health of our diplomats and their families has been seriously and permanently harmed.

These symptoms occurred in US diplomatic residences (including a long-term residence on the Atlantic Ocean) and in the Hotel Nacional and Hotel Capri in Havana.

The Cuban government has denied any knowledge of or involvement in the incidents with American diplomats.