Alfredo Fernandez

Gas station fire in Santiago de Cuba. Photo: Miguel Noa, cubadebate.cu

HAVANA TIMES – The video camera of a cell phone can help break the siege of misinformation, especially in countries where ignoring news items is the norm imposed by a state on its citizens. A government that misinforms, spoon feeds (at best) or just hides the news.

The tragedy that recently occurred warranted only a simple statement on the National Television News, where “an accident at a gas station in Santiago de Cuba left a toll of 32 injured, 15 of them with severe burns.”

Today, the film from the camera of a mobile phone, is the most viewed video on Cuban computers.

In the video that made it into my hands we don’t see any of the 32 people on fire. However you do see a lot of bold people trying to retrieve some of the gasoline spilling from the broken pump at a CUPET gas station on Trocha and Morro Road in the city of Santiago.

What I think is even worse is that you see the firefighters arrive when all could have been avoided and yet they do nothing, likewise the workers of the gas station and the police who were already there.

For many who have seen the video, the problem is local and of the moment, I think not.

The apathy that now consumes Cuban daily life makes our institutions not really function a such, but as if they were just going through the motions.

So, from one end to the other of Cuba we are all surrounded by organizations that are not, with workers who are unaware of their activities.

As I write at least seven people involved in the incident have died and at least seven more remain in critical condition with life threatening.

The ten-minute video, in my opinion, not only shows a successive chain of irresponsibility that ended in tragedy, but shows the real state of today’s Cuba.

A country of institutions that are not, where leaders are completely unaware of their work, hence it’s no surprise that the gas station employees did not act in time to alert the relevant authorities of the impending disaster.

Or, who knows, maybe they did. But still, it appeared that the police and firefighters were disinterested, with an attitude as many say in Cuba: “And what do I care? None of them are my family. ”

 


Alfredo Fernandez

Alfredo Fernandez: I didn't really leave Cuba, it's impossible to leave somewhere that you've never been. After gravitating for 37 years on that strange island, I managed to touch firm ground, but only to confirm that I hadn't reached anywhere. Perhaps I will never belong anywhere. Now I'm living in Ecuador, but please, don't believe me when I say where I am, better to find me in "the Cuba of my dreams.

4 thoughts on “A Gruesome Video

  • Another example of ‘Moses’ telling Cubans what’s wrong with their government. Fernando, a Cuban, writes from a Cuban perspective. ‘Moses’, an American, writes from an American point of view – the same one that has opposed Cuba’s Revolutions – yes, both of them, for 110 years. Some folks just don’t know when to quit and leave Cuba alone.

  • Fernando,

    I would like to comment on a few things that came to mind when I read your essay on the gas station tragedy, where you use a cell phone video to “help break the siege of misinformation.” I also read in your bio at the top of the page, “to search for the truth on an island can wind up being as an illusory adventure as balancing a scale.”

    Since we all live on islands of one kind or another – physical, cultural and mental, I feel the sentiment applies to us all so I would like to make some observations relating to the search for truth, even if it proves to be an “illusory adventure” That, after all, is the spirit in which all good science is carried out.

    Images intrinsically have no definitive meaning. Meaning is determined by what is seen in combination with the viewer’s perspective. It follows that images are nonobjective in nature. Meaning derives from the eyes and mind of the beholder – what YOU see is what you get.

    I feel Fernando and myself are on the same wavelength in this regard as he wrote in his bio, “The words that my writings present here convey what there is of equilibrium within me, along with my more natural state.”

    He made his perspective clear, writing, “The ten-minute video, in my opinion, not only shows a successive chain of irresponsibility that ended in tragedy, but shows the real state of today’s Cuba.”

    And, more generally, quoting again from his bio, “The truth one might find in my writings is that which is somehow snatched from my fears.”

    Readers then, searching for truths in what Fernando wrote, must come to terms with his fears and his conclusions, coloured by those fears:

    “The apathy that now consumes Cuban daily life makes our institutions not really function as such, but as if they were just going through the motions.”

    And, “So, from one end to the other of Cuba we are all surrounded by organizations that are not, with workers who are unaware of their activities.”

    The video Fernando describes, I think, is the same one posted on Youtube that I watched. It came from Unión Patriótica de Cuba who annotated it with graphics and titles highlighting what was taking place and what was being said. This, of course, introduces ‘meaning’ from a UNPACU perspective.

    So I now have three perspectives on the video, Fernando’s, the UNPACU and my own.

    I am a regular watcher of Al Jazeera news. Many times they show videos taken with cell phones along with a disclaimer that the contents “cannot be independently verified”. A golden rule of good journalism requires more than one source for reporting information, preferably a minimum of three.

    So we have Fernando’s, I will give mine, and readers can look at the videos and add theirs. For yet another perspective, a blogger posting on a dissident website wrote, “the fire seems to start right as a police cars arrives, implying the fire was started by the police.”

    In addition to what I have previously quoted, here are other observations Fernando made and conclusions he drew:

    “In the video … we don’t see any of the 32 people on fire. However you do see a lot of bold people trying to retrieve some of the gasoline spilling from the broken pump.”

    “What I think is even worse is that you see the firefighters arrive when all could have been avoided and yet they do nothing, likewise the workers of the gas station and the police who were already there.”

    “For many who have seen the video, the problem is local and of the moment, I think not.”

    The UNPACU-annotated video, from my perspective, seemed accurate in the annotating although the blurry images and at times cacophony of voices made it difficult to tell whether there were other annotations possible.

    I should spell out my perspective. I have read of several fires like this, at gas stations, oil refineries and gas pipes in various places in the world. The one at Santiago, to me seemed typical, in detail and in tragedy.

    Another perspective I have is that a segment of the Cuban population feels a need to blame its institutions for its unhappiness. I have no way of knowing what the size of that segment is nor how valid it is. It is well-represented on HT but there is no way of knowing how representative HT is of the Cuban population in general. I read dissident websites in my own country but know they are not representative of Canadian thinking.

    Despite representing minority thinking, I feel the websites I read are expressing valid viewpoints. I feel the same with HT, otherwise I wouldn’t be reading it, unlike some – you will know who – who come exclusively to propagandize – see the first comment here for an example.

    I am concerned, however, that the powerful propagandizing forces, coupled with youthful – I-want-it-now impatience – are causing at least some of the unhappiness that is translating out to undue criticism of Cuba’s institutions.

    Okay, that is my disclaimer of where I come from reading what Fernando wrote and watching the video, as well as, perhaps a few years under my belt that may bring some wisdom to my perspective.

    This is what I saw. The first 4 minutes show gasoline leaking from a downed gas pump. UNPACU circles the leak in the blurry image. There is no way of knowing how long the leak has gone on prior to the video. No one is seen around the leak.

    At 4 minutes, 22 seconds a fire truck arrives. A title states, in Spanish, “Firefighters were able to keep people away from the danger that the spill represents.” A further title states, “Motorists and neighbors try to get gas at the risk of their lives.”

    Later, a crowd of people are seen scooping up gas from the ground. I didn’t see firefighters in the picture except when they first arrived. Fernando feels “firefighters arrive when all could have been avoided and yet they do nothing.” My feeling was, under the circumstances – there was only one fire truck – there are only four firefighters on trucks the same size in Toronto – I’m not sure what they could have done. There appeared to be 50+ people going after the gasoline.

    Then, you see a police car arrive. A title reads, “Someone tells of the arrival of the police, a motorist takes flight and a spark from the exhaust lights the flammable liquid.” There is a fireball and screaming. This part I found sad and horrifying, not for what you saw but for what you knew was taking place.

    A title reads, “People burning, is heard being screamed by observers hearing the shouts, directed at the firefighters.”

    Fernando writes, “it appeared that the police and firefighters were disinterested.” From my perspective, I don’t know what they could have done. They were clearly not dressed or prepared for walking into a raging inferno without becoming casualties themselves.

    I think it must have been sheer agony for them knowing there was nothing they could do. Fernando has a different perspective, based on his feeling about Cuba’s institutions.

    I would hope there will be a review by these institutions, focused on identifying what needs to be done differently to avoid an incident like this from happening again. Public education about the dangers gasoline leaks represent, procedures formulated for gas stations about what to do – attempting to cordon off the area immediately, alerting bystanders to the danger, firefighting procedures that involve police immediately – they should arrive at the scene together or firefighters getting training in crowd control is needed, etc, etc.

    If such a review doesn’t take place, THEN I would agree with Fernando that there is major organizational dysfunction in Santiago and perhaps Cuba as a whole.

    There is another question that caught my eye in a separate news bite in Havana Times, “Deaths from Santiago Gas Station Fire Reach Six” that I think should be looked at in more detail in case procedures can be improved:

    “Most of the deaths of the burn victims occurred ‘due to widespread infection that was impossible to combat,’ according to a report in the Sierra Maestra newspaper this weekend.”

    Infections from burns are deadly and require prompt, intensive care treatment. Could something be improved in medical procedure to save more burn victims lives?

    The Youtube video I found is posted in two 5-minute segments:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=lxIJYzuomOg

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VitPmqr5N_U&feature=player_embedded#!

  • Sounds a lot like your country,the best government money can buy.

  • Apathy is the biggest problem facing the Cuban population today. From apathy, corruption flourishes. From àpathy, a government unable to keep its promises is not held to account. Apathy allows buildings to decay and fall and public spaces to deteriorate. Tourists seldom see this side of Cuban life because for the tourist there is always room for a smile and a helping hand. But when the tourists aren´t around and the fear of being overheard by the CDR President does not exist, apathy rears its sullen head. I used to think it was about the disgustingly low salaries, but it is more than that. It is about hope. Cubans have lost nearly all hope that life in Cuba will improve for them.

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