As you've probably heard in recent days, news outlets (CNN, NBC, WSJ, BBC, and on and on) continue using this archaic term.
It is used unironically, often without even the distance of quotation marks—to describe a constellation of symptoms that no one seems to understand.
The inexplicable incidents, generally involving acute disruptions to the nervous system, have reportedly afflicted U.S. intelligence officers around the world, for many years—though apparently more often recently. Cases have been reported from Vienna to China to Russia to D.C. to, according to today's reports, Hanoi. And yet each instance is nominally, baselessly tied to the capital city of Cuba.
According to official reports, the "syndrome" (now often technically referred to as "anomalous health incident") can't even be accurately described, because symptoms vary so widely in nature and duration, much less explained. But even the meaningless term "anomalous health incident" (or, in today's case, "possible anomalous health incident"!) is more appropriate than implicating the embattled, impoverished island nation.
The term "Havana Syndrome" is no more defensible than Trump's deliberate use of "China Virus" in attempt to shift blame onto said country. Naming illnesses after locations has a long, malicious history, and it seemed the inappropriateness was clear to many people by 2020. At best, the practice slanders an entire population and associates it with illness, weakness, or maliciousness; at worst, it leads to actual violence against the implicated populations, as with the surges in anti-Asian violence during the pandemic.
Yet here we are doing it again. And, not to split hairs or defend any such naming, but SARS-CoV-2 did originate in China. The reports of a "Havana Syndrome" have happened all over the globe, with no evident tie to Cuba—a country that the U.S. government and media have deliberately maligned for decades. It's truly bizarre and inappropriate to embrace the name, especially given the historical and political context.
Based on similar lessons, news media and the scientific community have mercifully transitioned to naming the SARS-CoV-2 variants based on Greek letters (e.g. "delta variant") as opposed to geographies, to avoid any causal connotations—even when it may be objectively true that a certain variant was first identified in South Africa or Brazil or the U.K. The same thoughtfulness is even more important when dealing with a "syndrome" whose implied origin isn't a random viral mutation, but a malicious attack by conscious humans.
So, what to call it? Because this "syndrome" is reportedly baffling the CIA and commanding the attention from the highest levels of the U.S. government. (NYT, 8/8/21: "Some officials suspect that along with Russia, Iran may be responsible for some attacks, but there is also a focus on Cuba, China and other nations.") Riiight. I don't have an answer. But I do know that when so little is known, nomenclature is especially important.
If nothing more meaningful can be said about these incidents, for now, than that some of the cases were reported in Cuba, then maybe the actual common thread is ... a failure of U.S. intelligence to figure out what's going on? For those who may insist on naming things geographically, a more appropriate name might be ... Langley Syndrome? Washington D.C. Syndrome? CIA Syndrome? CIA Debilitation Disease? If any of these strike you as weird, improper, defamatory, etc, then you get it. Recognize the bias, call it out, don't repeat it.
If you have a better idea for a name, please do let me know. Watching this story closely.
Thanks for your time.