Cuba’s monumental blaze fuels fears of instability at the same time as flames are doused


A lightning strike, a sequence of fireball explosions so large they could possibly be seen 65 miles away in Havana, and a lingering stench of sulphur.

The five-day blaze at Cuba’s fundamental oil storage facility in Matanzas was sparked by lightning on Friday evening. Over the next days, the flames unfold “like an Olympic torch” to 3 extra tanks containing lots of of hundreds of cubic toes of gas, in keeping with the area’s governor, Mario Sabines.

Solely on Tuesday was the conflagration lastly introduced underneath management. By then, it had killed at the very least one individual and injured 125 others, and dealt a essential blow to Cuba’s power infrastructure.

And because the smoke clears, hypothesis is mounting that it – and the blackouts that may inevitably observe – might additional destabilise the “Cuban Revolution”, already at one of the crucial perilous moments in its 63-year historical past.

Tens of millions of Cubans – particularly these within the rural provinces – have for months been residing with day by day energy cuts that final hours. Within the August warmth, meals rots rapidly and sleep turns into all however unimaginable.

The scenario is tense: the quick set off for final summer season’s unprecedented protests was a 12-hour energy outage.

In Matanzas, Odalys Medina Peña, 60, stated she had lengthy grown used to cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner on the first light in anticipation of blackouts.

“You’ve received to adapt and see whether or not the nation can resolve the scenario. When one thing like this occurs, everybody comes collectively – as a result of if Cuba has one factor, it’s humanity.”

However with poisonous smog blotting out a lot daylight in Havana over the weekend, the sensation within the capital was much less stoic.

A resident sits on a sea wall as smoke rises within the background from the hearth. {Photograph}: Ismael Francisco/AP

“I’m scared of this horrible cloud and I’m fearful about energy cuts,” stated Adilen Sardinas, 29, who’s eight months pregnant. “How is the state going to deal with this?”

Officers haven’t stated how a lot crude, diesel and gas oil has been misplaced within the fireplace, however Cuba was already experiencing an power disaster.

Oil shipments from Venezuela have dwindled as Cuba’s South American ally struggles to refine sufficient oil for its personal wants. The surge in world oil costs brought on by the warfare in Ukraine has additionally made it more durable for Cuba to purchase it on the worldwide market.

Analysts say the one-two punch of Covid, which all however shuttered tourism in 2020 and 2021, and US sanctions have been decisive.

Cuba’s “international change inflows virtually halved between 2018 and 2021”, stated Emily Morris, a growth economist at College School London. “Regardless of lowering gas and meals provides to an important minimal, in 2021 they accounted for greater than half of all import spending, with extra extreme cuts in all different imports, together with spare elements, manufacturing inputs, capital gear and client items, so you’ll be able to see what a devastating impact that was going to have.”

Regardless of Joe Biden’s marketing campaign promise to reverse the “Trump insurance policies that inflicted hurt on Cubans and their households”, the majority of the Trump administration’s “most strain” marketing campaign towards the island stays.

Tankers carrying Venezuelan oil to Cuba nonetheless face sanctions. Analysts say this forces the island to pay a premium on freight.

Whereas Venezuela and Mexico despatched specialist groups and fire-extinguishing foam over the weekend, the US supplied “technical help”. This has to date amounted to “communication” between “technical personnel” of the 2 international locations, in keeping with a Cuban authorities official.

Fulton Armstrong, who was the US intelligence group’s most senior analyst on Latin America, stated there are “fears amongst supporters of a return to the normalization course of launched by President Obama that the [Biden] administration is … privately hopeful that the power and different issues are a take a look at that ‘the regime’ fails”.

Jorge Piñon, director of the College of Texas at Austin’s Latin America and Caribbean power and surroundings Program, stated that even earlier than the blaze, his modelling had predicted a “whole collapse” of the island’s power grid this summer season.

He additionally famous {that a} Russian tanker carrying 115,000 tonnes of petroleum was because of dock within the port of Matanzas later this week. “The place is she going to go?”

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