Iván García, 1 June 2018 — Although the chances of an accident are one in a thousand, Rigoberto González and his wife refused to travel by plane in the state-owned company Cubana de Aviación to Santiago de Cuba, 957 kilometers east of Havana, and opted to travel on an interprovincial highway to the eastern city.
“With the thunder storm, I prefer to travel on a ground ball, by land, rather than a flyball. The impression on the street is that the old planes of Cubana de Aviación are flying coffins. The flight is relatively cheap, around 200 Cuban pesos — the equivalent of 9 dollars — and the trip lasts one hour. But as a result of the last plane crash, through social networks and the foreign press, I learned that the problem goes beyond outdated airplanes and a shortage of spare parts. Besides bad work, it is said that there is corruption and negligence,” Rigoberto says.
The fatal accident, which occurred on May 18 in Havana, coincided with the rise of the Internet on the island. If previously the regime of Fidel Castro, thanks to the tight control of the entire state press, could manipulate local public opinion at will, now Facebook, Twitter, social networks, blogs, alternative sites and international media, have opened a considerable gap in the wall of disinformation designed by the olive green autocracy, which no longer holds water.
Newspapers from Florida such as Diario Las Américas and El Nuevo Herald, and websites like Martí Noticias, have published about the irregularities of the turbulent company Global Air. Information published in the Mexican press, which has included reports of pilots and inspectors of Cubana de Aviación warning not to lease Global Air. These reviews have had an impact on the Island.
Authorities of civil aviation in Guyana, Honduras and Chile, had already banned the Boeing 727-200 from flying in their territory in Havana. The official Cuban press has not published a line on this.
Germán, a barber, believes that “it is incongruous, that with all the news on the Internet about that company, that the Cuban press does not reflect it. I suspect that there is some complicity between the officials of Cubana de Aviación and Global Air. If they had difficulties once in 2010 in Santa Clara, and has had a series of problems in other countries, it is inexplicable that our authorities have hired them again. ”
Sara, a bank employee, points out that “the Institute of Civil Aeronautics has been having problems for some time, including cases of corruption, such as that of its president, General Rogelio Acevedo, dismissed in 2010 and rumored to have stolen millions of dollars. To this is added the bad service, delays in the flight schedules and an old-fashioned aerial fleet with no replacement parts. It amazes me that they have not shut down. This tragic accident could have been avoided if its leaders had been more responsible.”
Four Cubana de Aviación accidents happened on the island in the last 16 years (March 2002, October 2010, November 2010 and May 2018) with a total of 203 deaths, in a company that operates a handful of international and domestic flights that merits a serious and deep investigation.
“In Cuba, corruption is tolerated. Six or seven years ago, several operators of the Sol y Son tourism company, with the complicity of Civil Aviation officials, implemented an under the table import business from Mexico. The poor maintenance of the airplanes and the contracting with airlines that offer bribes to corrupt Cuban officials, is added to terrible service at the airports. They break a flat screen TV and don’t compensate travelers for stealing their suitcases. Recently, due to delays in a flight, almost a hundred Canadian tourists were stranded in Cayo Coco,” says a former airport worker.
According to an official of the Civil Aeronautics of Cuba, “the state press has not published the information and rumors circulating about Global Air and its apparent deficiencies, pending the conclusion of the investigation of international experts. The Cuban authorities are also conducting a thorough examination. You have to be patient and not say things that can not be proven.”
A segment of ordinary Cubans consider that the new hand-picked president Miguel Diaz-Canel should pound his fist on the table and, if it exists, reveal the alleged corrupt framework and the deficiencies of the sector.
“He has to prove that he is not a simple puppet and clean up the shit in a decisive way. If he does, it would increase its popularity,” says Pablo, a hospital custodian.
“Nothing is going to change as long as things do not change in Cuba. Cubana de Aviación is the reflection of the system we have, which does not work. Neither Díaz-Canel nor Mandrake the Magician can reverse that reality, as long as the system does not change,” emphasizes Damián, a taxi driver, who suggests “forming a joint venture airline with Canada or any developed nation in Europe. And to close Cubana de Aviación, an unsafe company, that does not meet with its schedules and provides bad service.”
There are more than a few in Cuba who think the same as the Havana taxi driver.