It means even less medicines
By Jorge Carlos De La Paz (El Toque)
HAVANA TIMES – Since August 23rd, the international courier and package delivery company DHL decided to temporarily suspend its delivery services to Cuba, without any notice, with the exception of documents.
The measure didn’t have any public repercussions until September 25th, when user Roberto Garces Marrero posted on Twitter that it was now impossible to send medicines to Cuba from Mexico, using this company. The news came crashing down like a bucket of cold water on hundreds of Cubans living in Mexico, who have been organizing the sending of humanitarian aid parcels to Cuba during the current health crisis.
While this information wasn’t communicated by any official source beforehand, Yelanys Hernandez – a Cuban journalist living in Mexico and coordinator of one of the aid projects – verified this by calling DHL branches, who said the suspension would be in force “until further notice” and that the company would only be providing delivery services for documents to the island for the time being.
“With this news from DHL, who provide a swift, efficient and expensive but very secure service, we have very few options left to send medicines regularly to the island,” Hernandez said, who hadn’t received any details about the reasons that led to this decision, although she was told that it was due to matters “in situ”; that is to say, in Cuba, without any further details.
In the face of the social media uproar because of the assumption that this measure had been taken by the Cuban government, the International Courier and Exchange Company belonging to the Cuban Postal Service, published a statement on August 25th that confirmed the cancellation of deliveries via DHL to the Caribbean country, not only from Mexico, but from anywhere in the world, and it shook off any responsibility for the decision that had been made by DHL.
According to the statement, “DHL will temporarily suspend its Package Delivery Network to Cuba, while the document delivery service will remain available in Havana and the provinces, for two or three weeks in principle”; the reason lies in “the limited capacity for cargo on airlines traveling to Cuba.”
We reached out to Gabriela Gaona Martinez, head of DHL’s Foreign Communications at DHL Supply Chain Latin America, who corroborated the Postal Service’s version and said that “due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the number of commercial flights, which continues to be limited to and from the island, DHL has temporarily suspended package deliveries to Cuba until further notice. In the meantime, we continue to offer document delivery services.”
The company didn’t give an answer as to just how long this suspension will last.
Consequences for Cuba
Due to significant food and medicine shortages in Cuba and a surge in COVID-19 cases, hundreds of Cubans living abroad have joined efforts in initiatives to send emergency aid to the archipelago. Within this context, DHL became one of the few channels to get donations to the island, despite this being expensive and delays in packages arriving and being picked up on the island.
This option wasn’t obstacle-free, as the giant in international courier services needed to hire shared space on commercial planes traveling to Cuba, mostly from Spain and Russia.
For example, for a package from Mexico City to reach Havana, it would first need to be sent to Madrid on a layover, and then from the Spanish capital to Cuba. This route increased prices and delayed their arrival. The insufficient four monthly commercial flights that connect Mexico to Cuba made it impossible for this to be a direct route between both countries.
Limited capacity on planes and the tedious routes to get packages to the island as a result of restrictions, went hand-in-hand with a considerable spike in deliveries to the island, thanks to the great solidarity movement that has been sparked amongst the Cuban diaspora community. The combination of these factors led to the bottleneck that DHL is now “temporarily” dealing with in its operations.
The exponential growth of deliveries to Cuba in 2021 has been recognized by national authorities. The minister of Communication, Mayra Arevich Marin, said that record numbers of packages coming from abroad have continue to be registered at the Postal Service’s Sorting and Home Delivery Centers.
Meanwhile, Carlos Asencio Valerino, president of the Cuban Postal Service, and Zoraya Bravo Fuentes, the assistant director of the postal organization’s Courier Service, told the deputy prime minister of the Government, Jorge Luis Perdomo Di-Lella, that by the end of the first semester of 2021 over half a million international deliveries had been processed and delivered to their recipients in the country, a similar figure to what the Postal Service had processed over the course of 2020.
On a visit to the International Courier and Exchange Company belonging to the Cuban Postal Service, on September 9th, Perdomo Di-Lella learned that in July, the daily average of deliveries to recipients was over 15,000 parcels.
The Sorting Office in Santiago de Cuba alone processed over 19,800 deliveries; of which, over 12,900 were delivered to homes. Since January up until the end of August 2021, over 58,000 deliveries have been processed, double the number of deliveries over the same period in previous years.
This is not the first time that DHL has interrupted its international package delivery service with Cuba. On April 14th 2020, the company was forced to stop its operations in Cuba because of the Cuban government’s strict border closures. The package delivery service couldn’t start up its services again until November 19th, after seven months without operating in the country.
This is why initiatives set up by Cuban citizens living abroad have not only focused on collecting and sending humanitarian aid, but also on asking for humanitarian corridors for flights so that basic essentials can enter the country without Customs restrictions.
With over 55,000 signatures on the Change.org platform, the petition signed by Cuban Feminists asks Cuba’s main authorities to create the mechanisms needed so that “Cubans living abroad can travel to the island and deliver these products, as long as they as they can provide proof of their COVID-19 vaccinations beforehand.”
Up until now, this initiative has not received an official response from the Cuban government, just like there hasn’t been a response to the request for two US cargo companies to transport humanitarian aid to Cuba, which is still being “discussed”.
The US Department of Transportation had authorized charter flights to airports in Havana and another seven cities in the country’s interior. The license allows one flight per week by the Skyway Enterprises company, from Miami to Santiago de Cuba, Varadero, Holguin, Santa Clara and Camaguey, between July 22nd and November 30th 2021.
Likewise, five weekly flights by IBC Airways, with small planes, from Miami to Havana, Santa Clara, Camaguey, Santiago de Cuba and Matanzas / Varadero, between July 27th and December 31st 2021.
On September 1st, the Civil Aviation Institute of Cuba (IACC) responded that it is in negotiations with the charter flight company Invicta to “assess possible cargo operations using Skyway airline to airports outside Havana.”
News about gradually opening up borders again after November 15th could bring a foreseeable increase in commercial flights to the country, so not only would international parcel deliveries find some relief with DHL, but it would also allow travelers to arrive with medicines, personal hygiene items and food thanks to the temporary exemption on Custom duty fees for these kinds of products up until December 31st.