A lightning strike, a chain of fireball explosions that were seen 65 miles away in Havana, and the stench of sulfur.
A major oil storage facility in Matanzas, Cuba, has been on fire for five days Lightning struck on Friday night. In the following days, flames spread “like an Olympic torch” to three more tanks containing hundreds of thousands of cubic feet of fuel, according to the region’s governor, Mario Sabines.
The last fire incident happened on Tuesday brought under control. By then, it had killed at least one person and injured 125 others, and dealt a critical blow to Cuba’s energy infrastructure.
As the smoke clears, speculation is mounting that it – and the blackouts that will inevitably follow – will further destabilize the “Cuban Revolution,” already one of the most dangerous moments in its 63-year history.
Millions of Cubans — especially those in rural provinces — have been living with daily power outages for months. In the August heat, food rots quickly and sleep becomes impossible.
The situation is tense: immediate stimulation Last summer’s unprecedented protests There was a power cut for 12 hours.
In Matanzas, Odalys Medina Peña, 60, said she has long been accustomed to cooking breakfast, lunch and dinner at dawn in anticipation of blackouts.
“You have to adapt and see if the country can resolve the situation. When something like this happens, everyone comes together – because if there’s one thing in Cuba, it’s humanity.
But sentiment was low in the capital as toxic smog blotted out sunlight in Havana over the weekend.
“I’m scared of this terrible cloud, I’m worried about power cuts,” said Adilan Sardinas, 29, who is eight months pregnant. “How is the government going to handle this?”
Officials did not say how much crude, diesel and fuel oil was lost in the fire, but Cubans are already bracing for an even more severe energy crisis.
Oil exports from Venezuela have fallen as Cuba’s South American ally struggles to refine enough oil for its own needs. The war in Ukraine has caused global oil prices to rise, making it difficult for Cuba to buy on the world market.
But analysts say Two-punch of Covid-19 and US sanctions cripple tourism in 2020 and 2021 is decisive.
Cuba’s “foreign exchange inflows have almost halved between 2018 and 2021,” said Emily Morris, a development economist at University College London. “Despite cutting fuel and food supplies to the bare minimum, more than half of all import spending in 2021, with drastic cuts in all other imports, including spare parts, manufacturing inputs, capital equipment and consumer goods. Look what a devastating effect that is going to have.”
Despite Joe Biden’s campaign promise to reverse “Trump policies that harm Cubans and their families,” much of the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign against the island remains.
Tankers carrying Venezuelan oil to Cuba still face obstacles. Analysts say it is forced to pay a premium for commodities.
The United States provided technical assistance, while Venezuela and Mexico sent special teams and more than a hundred tons of fire-fighting foam. Johanna Tablada, deputy director of US affairs at the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs, tweeted: “So far the United States has provided a telephone number to the local emergency authority.
Fulton Armstrong, the U.S. intelligence community’s most senior analyst on Latin America, said, “There is a fear among supporters of a return to the normalization process initiated by President Obama. [Biden] The administration … privately believes that energy and other issues are a test that ‘governance’ will fail.
Jorge Piñon, director of the University of Texas at Austin’s Latin America and Caribbean Energy and Environment Program, said before the fire that his modeling predicted a “total collapse” of the island’s power grid this summer.
He also noted that a Russian tanker carrying 115,000 tons of petroleum is scheduled to dock at the port of Madanzas this weekend. “Where is she going?”