A lightning strike, a series of fiery explosions so huge that they can be seen 65 miles away in Havana, and the fetid smell of sulfur.
The five-day fire at Cuba’s main oil storage facility was in Matanzas Raised by lightning on Friday night. Over the following days, the flames spread “like an Olympic torch” to three other tanks containing hundreds of thousands of cubic feet of fuel, according to the area’s governor, Mario Sabines.
Only on Tuesday was the wildfire at last under control. By that time, it had killed at least one person and wounded 125 more, dealing a huge blow to Cuba’s energy infrastructure.
As the smoke fades, speculation is growing that it – and the blackouts that will inevitably follow – could further destabilize the “Cuban Revolution,” which was already at one of the most dangerous moments in its 63-year history.
Millions of Cubans – especially those who live in rural areas – have been living for months in daily power cuts that last for hours. In the heat of August, food quickly rots and sleep becomes almost impossible.
Tense situation: direct impulse to Unprecedented protests last summer The power was off for 12 hours.
In Matanzas, Odaliz Medina Peña, 60, said she has long been in the habit of cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner at break of dawn in anticipation of a power outage.
“You have to adapt and see if the country can resolve the situation. When something like this happens, everyone comes together – because if Cuba has one thing, it is humanity.”
But with toxic smog spreading over much of Havana’s sunlight over the weekend, the feeling in the capital was less sober.
“I’m afraid of this terrible cloud and I’m worried about a power outage,” said Adeline Sardenas, 29, who is eight months pregnant. “How will the state deal with this?”
Officials did not say how much crude, diesel and fuel oil was lost in the fire, but the Cubans are already preparing for an even more severe energy crisis.
Oil shipments from Venezuela have dwindled as Cuba’s South American ally struggles to refine enough oil to meet its own needs. Also, the high world oil prices due to the war in Ukraine made it difficult for Cuba to buy it on the world market.
But analysts say that The one-two punch of Covid, which shut down tourism in 2020 and 2021, and US sanctions It was decisive.
“Foreign inflows to Cuba almost halved between 2018 and 2021,” said Emily Morris, development economist at University College London. “Despite cutting supplies of fuel and food to the basic minimum, in 2021 they accounted for more than half of total import spending, with sharper cuts in all other imports, including spare parts, production inputs, capital equipment, and consumer goods, so you can see to the devastating effect that would have had.”
Despite Joe Biden’s campaign promising to reverse “Trump’s policies that have harmed Cubans and their families,” the bulk of the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign against the island remains.
Venezuelan oil tankers bound for Cuba continue to face sanctions. Analysts say this forces Al Jazeera to pay a premium for shipping.
While Venezuela and Mexico sent specialized teams and more than a hundred tons of firefighting foam, the United States offered technical assistance. “The United States has so far provided an emergency local authority phone number,” Johana Tablada, deputy director of American affairs at the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs, wrote on Twitter.
Fulton Armstrong, who has been the US intelligence community’s top analyst on Latin America, said there were “concerns among proponents of a return to President Obama’s normalization process that the [Biden] The administration hopes…especially that power and other problems will serve as a test for the “system” to fail.
Even before the fire, his modeling predicted a “complete collapse” of the island’s power grid this summer, said Jorge Peñon, University of Texas director of Austin’s Energy and Environment Program in Latin America and the Caribbean.
He also noted that a Russian tanker carrying 115,000 tons of oil was scheduled to dock at the Matanzas port later this week. “Where is she going?”
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