And Russian Oxygen Arrived to Bail Out the Cuban Government

Díaz-Canel visiting the San Antonio de los Baños plant this Monday. (Granma)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, August 17, 2021 – Authorities have expeditiously alleviated the oxygen problem. It is unknown when oxygen began to be scarce in Cuba, although there are many patients who claim that the situation has been going on for months, but the way in which the state press has reported it to the population minimizes its importance. Just 24 hours after indicating that they had a problem with the supply, the country’s maximum leader visited the military plants that have come to the rescue, with the help of the Russians.

On Monday, Miguel Díaz-Canel showed up to walk through the oxygen factory of the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), located at the San Antonio de los Baños Air Base. According to the State newspaper Granma, the two Army plants have been providing support for “a few days” to the Industrial Gases of Cuba company, which produces medicinal oxygen. A broken part in its Havana factory (which puts out 95% of the country’s supply) left the one in Santiago de Cuba (responsible for the remaining 5%) alone in a task that has now become a matter of life or death.

These two plants have been joined by a third, donated and built by the Russians in just half a day at the same military base. “Having put it into operation gives us another guarantee and helps a lot,” said the Cuban president, after interacting with “those who have made possible the heroism of putting it into operation in record time,” in the words of the official press.

Lieutenant Colonel Boris Portuondo Tartabull, head of Gas and Electricity in the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, said that the new equipment was similar to the two that were already in place and was installed “in little more than twelve hours of arduous work after it arrived in Cuba around two in the afternoon last Sunday.” That is, shortly before the population was informed that oxygen was in short supply.

After its start-up in the early hours of this Monday, it increased production capacity to 360 cylinders every 24 hours, in three work shifts, says Granma.

Díaz-Canel approached the runway of the air base where official propaganda recorded the videos broadcast on Monday, with the soldiers transporting oxygen to provinces such as Pinar del Río, Cienfuegos and Villa Clara, and dedicated himself to encouraging the troops. “’Your work has been decisive,’ he told them, while proudly patting the shoulder of one of the crew,” reads the official text.

The presidential tour continued through the Industrial Gases of Cuba plant, where he observed the work of those who fill the oxygen cylinders distributed in the area of the capital and other nearby provinces, which is currently carried out in 24-hour shifts.

The official press did not refer to the breakdown that supposedly affected this plant and caused the interruption of the supply of medicinal oxygen, precisely when demand was at its highest point in hospitals for Covid patients.

The afternoon was dedicated by the president to other issues, such as visiting two businesses that are about to become SMEs*, and tweeting praise those who work in the fight against the pandemic, a new task that the president seems to have set himself since his prime minister charged healthcare workers with allegedly violating protocols, thereby contributing to the spread of Covid-19.

The authorities’ fear of the anger of the professionals is palpable. Regardless of their ideology, for days they have been expressing their distress at these words coming at a time when they face a pandemic with a shortage of personnel and means, so for the last three days Díaz-Canel has been trying to appease them through dispatches, with uneven success.

“What we have noticed the most in this time is the patriotism of our people, of the Healthcare personnel, of the scientists, of all those involved in Operation Millimeter of Oxygen, people who are working full time in complex situations. Thanks to all!” said the president last night on twitter.

The official newspaper of the Communist Party reinforces the task in a text entitled “At the foot of the patient, the hero who does not serve in enemy campaigns,” which it dedicates to pay tribute to the healthcare workers who face the pandemic without complaining.

“We are talking about those heroes, not about the ones that new enemy campaigns manipulate for their convenience, now exalting them as ’victims’, or putting them at the center of fabricated protests over the conditions in which the country faces Covid-19, and wanting to make them spokespersons of their anti-Cuban offensive, the same doctors and nurses they called slaves . . . Our heroes, the real ones, have names and many hours of sleeplessness,” says the note, which will not help placate those who, by explaining what in their opinion is being done wrong, has caused them to no longer be “real heroes.”

*Translator’s note: SME = Small/Medium size Enterprise

Translated by Tomás A.


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.