By Eloy Viera Cañive (El Toque)
HAVANA TIMES – “Victory generates victory.” Cuban president Miguel Mario Diaz-Canel Bermudez rejoiced, after announcing that the fire at the Supertanker Port in Matanzas – that had broken out 5 days earlier -, was now under control.
Ever since the first night of this disaster (August 5th 2022, the head of the Communist Party in Matanzas, Susely Morfa, and those who stand by her, downplayed the importance of this incident. On that day, the party representative – famous for having hysterically declared that she’d paid for her ticket to go to the Summit of the Americas in Panama, 2015 -, asked for people’s confidence and announced that the situation would be controlled.
However, Susely didn`t have the faintest idea of the real implications of the fire – as was later proved. The disaster in Matanzas has exposed Cuban bureaucrats yet again. It’s proven that their “confidence in victory” is just a guise for their negligence.
Despite this verbal diarrhea, the victory announced by Diaz Canel, which Susely Morfa supports with her hands in the air while they search for the remains of 14 firemen burnt to a crisp, isn’t even pyrrhic (a victory won at great cost). Cuba hasn’t earned anything but experience with the fire at the oil storage facility. If you look at the crisis and history of the Cuban Government’s model of administration, you can see that they don’t even have safeguards to make this experience translate into real actions that will prevent something similar from happening in the future.
There is no victory in Matanzas, just a fiasco. The results speak for themselves. At least 17 people dead and over 120 people injured, including the minister of Energy and Mines. The proportions of the environmental disaster as a consequence of the fire have yet to be determined. The fire destroyed half of the largest tanks holding the only deposit of its kind in Cuba.
These figures don’t compare to similar disasters that have been used in comparison to reduce the magnitude of the incident and to highlight the Cuban Government’s response to emergency crises.
Rene Gonzalez Sehwerert, one of the Cuban Five prosecuted in the US and then declared a Hero of the Cuban Republic, has said that those “who enjoy talking rubbish” need to know that it took the US six days to extinguish the fire at ITC Deer Park, an industrial chemical area in Houston.
This argument has been multiplied by those who support the Cuban Government, as a means to justify the problems they ran into when trying to manage a disaster like the one in Matanzas. However, beyond the comparison between the magnitude of these two incidents (eight tanks burned at ITC, holding more volatile products in addition to oil, like naphtha and xylene), Rene Gonzalez’s argument is counter-productive and reveals very little respect for human life. Gonzalez and those who used the idea to defend the Government’s response to the fire, forget to mention that not a single person was reported dead or injured as a result of the ITC incident.
On the contrary, the triumphalist spirit of Cuba’s leaders is probably what led them – even knowing they didn’t they have the resources – to minimize the disaster, keeping unnecessary people on the grounds and sending in firemen, with more of a desire than technique, to extinguish the first tanker on fire.
With no real victory in sight, the Government needed to tell a different story. Turning our attention to the heroism of leaders and firemen who have taken action against the fire that broke loose. They divert people’s attention away from the causes with this epic, as well as their inability to prevent disasters or better manage them when they take place.
Over subsequent days, an appeal was made not to politicize the disaster and its effects, and to not demand accountability until after the crisis is resolved, and to only focus on the victims. However, the reality is that it’s never a good time for citizens to make demands of the Communist Party. The time always comes when they (the Party) believes it’s the right moment, and often such never come.
Fore example, citizens have demanded real figures and to identify the disappeared or to confirm their death. Some official spokespeople have blamed victims’ families for the delay. However, while the Cuban Government keeps quiet, some relatives of the victims have taken to the street to express their pain and to demand those responsible for the death of their loved ones be held accountable. Especially the family members of the young people recruited into Compulsory Military Service, which were probably sent to fight the historic fire, without resources and training.
Those who suffer and demand answers aren’t hermetic or opaque. This is Cuban totalitarianism at its best. The disapproval expressed by families of the victims is also a rejection of government impunity.
Victorious language, the deliberate and privileged way they put all of the attention on the firefighters’ and authorities’ heroism, asking people to focus on the incident and not on the causes and real chances of this happening again, has been a mechanism the Cuban socialist Goverment has employed time and time again to extend the impunity that allows them to survive.
Impunity that isn’t only individual, but also for the entire system. They aren’t trying to protect this person or that with this strategy, but rather an entire system that is incompatible with competence.
Government impunity was sought when Diaz-Canel said that “events” of the 2018 plane crash would be studied. At that time, he said that he would be able to give “all of the information you need.” However, four years later, Cubans are still waiting for ALL of the information promised by the president. We are waiting for information that perhaps doesn’t go beyond the scant initial report on the disaster published by the Cuban Government, that places all of the responsibility on the airplane’s crew. However, it doesn’t delve into who was responsible for the Cuban Government renting a questionable aircraft from a company like Global Air.
Cuba had received advice since 2010, “it to stop operating chartered flights” on Global Air’s aircraft because of failures and irregularities, reported the Mexican paper Milenio. Failures and irregularities that were reported by airline staff before and after the plane crash, including a lack of maintenance for the aircraft and insuficient pilot training.
We Cubans are also waiting to meet the person who was responsible for compensating victims’ families, and the shape this compensation took. An important question that stems from complaints made by the only survivor from the accident, who voiced the hardship she endures to have access to the resources and medicines she needs to uphold her quality of life.
But if we know very little about what happened in 2018, we know a lot less about the results of the investigation about the explosion at the Saratoga Hotel, which took place just a few months before the Matanzas fire.
Cuban leaders’ victorious language and propaganda – which is rather a reflection of the logical satisfaction you might have knowing you’ve put an end to a nightmare, which I believe is another sign of the alienation they live with and the impunity they enjoy. Alienation that leads them to confuse relief with victory and an impunity that allows them to sell it because they know they have nothing to lose – neither in politics, or the Penal Code -, with the deaths and injuries resulting from their deficient management.
There is no victory in the Government’s actions. At least not for Cuban citizens. People don’t come out winning in this kind of disaster. Experience has taught us that disasters further diminish the few rights Cuban people still have. People have the right to be informed and not only receive the opportunistic opinions put out by the Cuban Government. People have the right to be informed because disasters in Cuba and their administration have proved that knowledge is becoming less and less a luxury, and more a question of survival.