The Avoidance of Responsibility for the Fires in Matanzas, Cuba

The storage tanks at Cuba’s only Supertanker Base caught fire and burned for days. (Cubadebate)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Elías Amor Bravo, Economist, 9 August 2022 — The communist state press collects statements by Díaz-Canel in which, in relation to the Matanzas fires, it bets on a new line of communication, according to which “we have confidence that we are going to recover.” And that’s what Cuba needs most right now: trust. At all levels. As much as Díaz-Canel takes advantage to change the focus, this hell that is happening at the Matanzas Supertanker Base is a hard blow that erodes the confidence that Díaz-Canel demands of the Cuban people, which is already at a minimum.

This is not the time for grandiloquent messages but to show that the communist state can act and do so efficiently when such an event occurs. There are too many references to revolutionary values and “revolutionary work” that don’t catch on. What people want are answers. A good way to start, because they have all the cards on the table, is to avoid responsibility.

And, of course, they will say that this fire can’t be attributed to anyone in particular, seeing what they see, but it’s time for someone in the powerful state sector created by the Cuban communists to assume the failure of what is happening. Even while the confrontation of the selfless firefighters, the army and civil protection takes place, we must begin to identify the culprits and set a precedent.

In Cuba, any dissident is put in prison for much less than what is happening in Matanzas. It’s time to start with the arrests of public officials or leaders who have been unable to foresee a scenario like the one that is transmitted to the world on television, and even those who are watching while others die, showing how little they are doing in the face of such an event. I am referring to the representatives of the party in the province, who are looking for media appearances to get something out of this event.

Díaz-Canel’s references to trust only make sense if responsibility is taken and the people see that the state acts not only against defenseless dissidents and opponents, but also against those who, out of indolence, don’t live up to the requirements of the jobs they occupy, undoubtedly well paid and with numerous perks. This is where we have to start if Díaz-Canel wants to regain the trust he says people have in him.

He is close to those responsible: starting with himself, followed by Prime Minister Manuel Marrero; Morales Ojeda in the Party; the head of Transport, Rodríguez Dávila; the Minister of Science, Technology and the Environment, Elba Rosa Pérez Montoya; the head of Health, Portal Miranda; even the memorable Susely Morfa, who is now a provincial delegate of the party; or the governor of the territory, Mario Sabines. There are plenty to choose from.

And then there is international trust, and this is more difficult to manage. Citizens of all countries of the world are seeing in the news, several times a day, the scenes of the consecutive fires at the Matanzas base; the dedication of those who fight the fire; the fears of the population; the toxic clouds that soar in all directions; the economic and social collapse. And what no one understands is that still, at this point, and despite the offer made from the beginning, the Cuban communist regime still will not request help from the neighbor to the north.

And so, while Díaz-Canel says that the fire should be extinguished in the shortest possible time, the days go by, and there are already several tanks that have burned, without the fire services having managed to stop the disaster. Perhaps because they lack the necessary experience and, above all, the means: more effective and modern instruments to fight the fire and thus put an end to the feeling of uncertainty and loss of confidence in Cuba, worldwide.

And for all these reasons, there is a certain contradiction in the communication strategy that is easily perceived.

On the one hand, there is the impression that the regime wants to bet on success depending on one more fire, which can occur at any time, due to a natural, inescapable phenomenon. The explanation of lightning has been questioned with the statistical indicators of last Friday when it all began, but the most serious thing is that feeling of calm that they want to transmit to the population, while the media show a dense layer of smoke projected more than 100 kilometers away, which cannot have beneficial effects because of what it contains. But the regime doesn’t want to “alarm” the population and takes its time with decisions; for example, mass evacuation, which should have already happened. The communiqués insist that they have control of the area in which the fire is developing, but the facts show just the opposite.

And, on the other hand, the second line of official communication is to present the fire as “a really intense and complex accident,” “a natural and ecological disaster with a high social and economic impact,” pointing out that these opinions are shared with the “friendly” specialists who have come from Mexico and Venezuela to work together with the Cubans. The “enemies” aren’t there and are not expected to be. Big mistake, because they are probably the only ones who know the most about all this. If it’s so serious, then why are the effects on the population minimized? And then they complain about trust.

While the fire remains out of control, other issues on the agenda are waiting for concrete solutions, such as the evacuation and movement of necessary equipment and the electro-energy situation of the country with reference to the water supply to the “Antonio Guiteras” thermoelectric power plant. There is also the issue of air pollution from the toxic cloud that runs through the western territory that has not yet begun to be measured, or the 125 people treated as a result of the fire, including one deceased and 24 hospitalized (of which 5 are in critical condition, 2 in serious condition and 17 under care).

Things are not going well. The phrase left to us by the ineffable Sucely Morfa, of sad memory at that Latin American summit, reads like this: “Here we can be exhausted; what we cannot be is defeated” and to end with that combination that Raúl Castro likes so much: “order and discipline to face any manifestation of despair in the population.” This is what worries them the most, and they are right.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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