The Flames Are Out in Matanzas, but the Suffering Continues

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Did you know that Cuba recently endured the worst fire in its history? On August 5, a lightning bolt struck a large oil tank base in Matanzas, Cuba, igniting a deadly fire. The explosion has left devastating results. Over the course of five dreadful days, the fire destroyed approximately 40 percent of Cuba’s main fuel storage facility. At least 125 people were injured and almost 5,000 people were displaced. Cuba’s sunny blue skies were plagued with toxic clouds of smoke that expanded over 60 miles across the island, which instilled fear and panic. The U.S. government’s response has been little more than offering some technical advice —compared to Mexico and Venezuela sending firefighters and specialists with boats, planes, and helicopters to combat the fire.

After the fire, the Cuban government asked for assistance from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in an effort to clean up the fire zones in Matanzas. At the end of August, experts from EPA and Cuban officials from the Department of International Affairs of the Ministry of Science, Technology, and Environment (Citma) held a virtual meeting to discuss innovative approaches and techniques to rehabilitate the damaged island. Although the United States provided this technical assistance to Cuba after the oil explosion, the Cuban people still need sensible humanitarian cooperation to combat the tragic aftermath. Most urgently, the U.S. government needs to remove obstacles that stand in the way of U.S. humanitarian agencies and other civil society organizations providing assistance. This would include immediately suspending restrictions that block or slow delivery of relief and removing Cuba from the State Department’s so-called State Sponsors of Terrorism list.

This tragic situation is an opportunity for the United States to stand up for Cubans in times of crisis. There are only 91 miles separating the United States from Cuba. The raging fire has deadly after-effects that hurt the lives of the Cuban people. These explosions will worsen the energy situation on the island and intensify the sufferings of the Cuban people, likely resulting in increased migration. Cuba already experiences unstable electric systems which lead to hours-long blackouts along with a global pandemic and ongoing humanitarian crisis.
No more waiting! The U.S. government must provide immediate and generous humanitarian relief and eliminates obstacles for U.S. humanitarian groups to help Cuba to address the Matanzas oil fire.

This is unacceptable. #MatanzasNoEstaSola