Manolo De Los Santos

How sanctions are fueling the fire at Cuba’s Matanzas oil storage facility

On August 5, a major oil storage facility in Matanzas, Cuba, 65 miles east of Havana, was hit by lightning. A tank that contained 25,000 cubic meters of crude oil caught fire after being struck. Since then, an enormous fire has been raging in Matanzas. Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Ávalos Jorge, deputy head of Cuba’s fire department, said that it was impossible to estimate when the fire would be completely extinguished. This tremendous explosion and hard-to-control fire has led to several people being reported missing (including firefighters), many others injured with severe burns, and hundreds more evacuated from their homes. Cuba’s president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, rushed to Matanzas on August 6, interacted with the local officials who were trying to get the fire under control, met residents of the town, and the next day, interacted with the press and spoke about the heroic work done by the firefighters and the solidarity of the Cuban people. “We are going to overcome this adversity,” he said.

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

Four of the eight tanks at the storage facility have been impacted by these fires. By August 8, Matanzas Governor Mario Sabines Lorenzo also confirmed that three tanks had been compromised. Clouds of dust now hover over the island. Elba Rosa Pérez Montoya, Cuba’s minister of Science, Technology, and Environment (CITMA), said that scientists from various backgrounds were monitoring the situation to see if the smoke resulting from the fire will lead to any negative health effects for the residents of the surrounding areas. As of that point, she said, “We have no evidence that there are effects on human health.” Nonetheless, strange substances have been detected in the water supplies in Yumurí Valley, Matanzas. Diosdado Vera, an 89-year-old farmer, showed journalist Arnaldo Mirabal Hernández the unusual color and odor of the water in an old bathtub that serves as the water source for her cows. “There are approximately 3,200 particles in the air right now,” said CITMA Minister Pérez Montoya. “The clouds have sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, among other substances that are falling on Matanzas, Mayabeque, and Havana.” Meanwhile, Pérez Montoya said that a team of scientists is investigating the strange substances found in the Yumurí Valley.

This tragedy has also had immediate repercussions for the entire population in the province of Matanzas and the whole island of Cuba since it affects their electricity supply and access to health care, which already are strained under the weight of the U.S. blockade, due to lack of availability of spare parts and scarcity of medicines in Cuba, respectively.

The fire has already led to the Antonio Guiteras thermoelectric plant in Matanzas being out of service due to a shortage of water and the contamination of the water cycle. This will likely lead to severe electricity outages amid record heat waves this summer. Ricardo Ronquillo Bello, president of the Union of Cuban Journalists (UPEC), tweeted that this tragedy will be “another test for Cuban journalism that will know how to honor with its humanism and social responsibility.” Ronquillo was referring to the onslaught of fake news that swept through social media, leading to a sense of alarm during an already difficult period.

In this dire crisis, the people of Cuba and their government have responded immediately, and this has resulted in on-site efforts to contain the fire, prevent a major environmental disaster, and keep the population safe. It has also led to a call for international aid and solidarity. The governments of Mexico, Venezuela, Russia, Nicaragua, Argentina, Chile and several others have promptly offered material aid, and some countries like Mexico and Venezuela have also sent experts and firefighters to confront this complex situation. Cuba’s Credit and Commerce Bank (Bandec) has set up an account so that people in the country can donate money to the people of Matanzas.

“Cuba is Matanzas,” said President Díaz-Canel, in the context of both the impact of the fire on the entire island and the solidarity that is visible across Cuba.

Sanctions

The U.S. blockade of Cuba fuels the fire that rages on in the country, despite denials by authorities in the United States. The U.S. government has both been stiffening up the blockade of Cuba and denying that sanctions have any impact on the functioning of the country (in fact, in 2021, then-White House press secretary Jen Psaki had said that the problems in Cuba are not due to the U.S. sanctions but rather are due to “the Cuban government’s economic mismanagement”). The U.S. Embassy in Havana has made assurances that the blockade authorizes U.S. entities and organizations to provide disaster relief and response. But organizations tell us that this is not the case, with the 243 sanctions imposed on Cuba working as a stranglehold against pursuing any activity in the country. Many of these organizations say that the process to send aid to Cuba is lengthy, with a licensing regime in place that requires expensive lawyers. Cuba’s inclusion in the state sponsors of terrorism list means that banks in both the United States and abroad are reluctant to process humanitarian donations.

While Washington says one thing and does another, the firefighters in Matanzas—aided by the reinforcements from Mexico and Venezuela—have been spraying foam on the fire to prevent it from spreading further, and helicopters have been pouring water on the other oil tanks to stop them from combusting. Even after the fire settles and the ashes remain, Cuba will struggle to rebuild these tanks and to solve its energy crisis. These are not merely domestic problems but rather are problems created and exaggerated by the harmful U.S.-imposed blockade that has been in existence for the past six decades.

Not long after the lightning strike, users on social media shared the hashtag #FuerzaMatanzas (be strong, Matanzas) on various platforms. Within 24 hours, the hashtag was shared by nearly a billion users, according to Dayron Avello, social media manager at Clínica Internacional Camilo Cienfuegos. A billion people have signaled their support for Cuba, a solidarity the U.S. blockade is unable to prevent.

Author Bio: Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is an editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest books are Struggle Makes Us Human: Learning from Movements for Socialism and (with Noam Chomsky) The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power.

Manolo De Los Santos is the co-executive director of the People’s Forum and is a researcher at Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He co-edited, most recently, Viviremos: Venezuela vs. Hybrid War (LeftWord Books/1804 Books, 2020) and Comrade of the Revolution: Selected Speeches of Fidel Castro (LeftWord Books/1804 Books, 2021). He is a co-coordinator of the People’s Summit for Democracy.

Why Cuba should be removed from the United States list of state sponsors of terrorism

The United States maintains a list of countries that it considers as “state sponsors of terrorism.” There are currently four countries on that list: Cuba, North Korea, Iran and Syria. The basic idea behind this list is that the U.S. State Department determines that these countries have “provided support for acts of international terrorism.” Evidence about those “acts” are not provided by the U.S. government. For Cuba, there is not one shred of evidence that the government has offered any such support to terrorism activities, in fact, Cuba has—since 1959—been a victim of acts of terrorism by the United States, including an attempted invasion in 1961 (Bay of Pigs) and repeated assassination attempts against its leaders (638 times against Fidel Castro).

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

Cuba, rather than exporting weapons around the world, has a long history of medical internationalism with Cuban doctors and medicines being a familiar sight from Pakistan to Peru. In fact, there is an international campaign for Cuban doctors to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Why would a country that floods the world with health care be targeted as a state sponsor of terrorism?

Washington’s Vindictiveness

Cuba was not on the state sponsor of terrorism list from 2015 onward, when President Barack Obama removed Cuba from that list (it was first added to the list in 1982 by President Ronald Reagan). In his last week in office, and days before Joe Biden was inaugurated to replace him, former President Donald Trump put Cuba back on the list on January 12, 2021. The comments made by then-U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo provide a strange justification for this action: despite Cuba having been removed from the list in 2015, five years previously, Pompeo said that “[f]or decades, the Cuban government has fed, housed, and provided medical care for murderers, bombmakers, and hijackers.”

The phrase “for decades” suggests that the Trump administration went back beyond 2015, not assessing the situation in Cuba during the five years since it was removed from the list but going back to an era before Obama’s action. There was no new evidence of anything having changed since 2015, which showed that Trump’s actions were purely political (to curry favor with the hard-right wing that continues to want to conduct regime change in Cuba and to nullify as many of Obama’s policies as possible).

The United States has carried out a blockade against Cuba since 1959 when the Cuban Revolution began a process to transform the country that was ruled by gangsters (including the U.S. mafia) into a country that tended to the needs of its people. The revolution developed programs for literacy and health care and for building up the cultural confidence of the people long suppressed by Spanish and U.S. colonialism. The United States elite was eager to snuff out the example of Cuba, which showed that even a poor country could transcend the socioeconomic conditions of poverty. Each year since 1992, almost all the countries in the world—184 out of 193 at last count—vote in the United Nations General Assembly to condemn the blockade of Cuba.

Remove Cuba From the List

The designation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism by the United States deeply harms the ability of the Cuban government and its people from carrying on with the basic functions of life. The immense power of the United States government over the world financial system means that banks and traders refuse to do business with Cuba since they are afraid of retaliation by the United States government for breaking the blockade. It is stunning to learn that because of this blockade, and despite the murmurs from the U.S. government about medical exceptions, firms refuse to sell Cuba raw materials, reactive agents, diagnostic kits, pharmaceutical drugs and devices, and a range of other materials necessary for operating Cuba’s excellent but stressed public science and health care system.

U.S. President Joe Biden can remove Cuba from this list with a stroke of his pen. It’s as simple as that. When he was running for the presidency, Biden said he would even reverse the harsher of Trump’s sanctions and revert to the policies of the Obama administration. But he has not done so, which might be for reasons of political expediency. There is a streak of vindictiveness that runs through U.S. policies against Cuba, an island that proved during the pandemic that its revolutionary process cares for its people. The example of public health care in Cuba, despite being a small island nation, should be exported around the world. The country is not a state sponsor of terrorism but a state sponsor of global well-being.

Author Bio: Roger Waters is a musician. He is in the midst of his tour, This is Not a Drill.

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is an editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest books are Struggle Makes Us Human: Learning from Movements for Socialism and (with Noam Chomsky) The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power.

Manolo De Los Santos is the co-executive director of the People’s Forum and is a researcher at Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He co-edited, most recently, Viviremos: Venezuela vs. Hybrid War (LeftWord Books/1804 Books, 2020) and Comrade of the Revolution: Selected Speeches of Fidel Castro (LeftWord Books/1804 Books, 2021). He is a co-coordinator of the People’s Summit for Democracy.

Cuba is eradicating child mortality and banishing diseases that affect the impoverished

Palpite, Cuba, is just a few miles away from Playa Girón, along the Bay of Pigs, where the United States attempted to overthrow the Cuban Revolution in 1961. Down a modest street in a small building with a Cuban flag and a large picture of Fidel Castro near the front door, Dr. Dayamis Gómez La Rosa sees patients from 8 AM to 5 PM. In fact, that is an inaccurate sentence. Dr. Dayamis, like most primary care doctors in Cuba, lives above the clinic that she runs. “I became a doctor,” she told us as we sat in the clinic’s waiting room, “because I wanted to make the world a better place.” Her father was a bartender, and her mother was a housecleaner, but “thanks to the Revolution,” she says, she is a primary care doctor, and her brother is a dentist. Patients come when they need care, even in the middle of the night.

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

Apart from the waiting room, the clinic only has three other rooms, all of them small and clean. The 1,970 people in Palpite come to see Dr. Dayamis, who emphasizes that she has in her care several pregnant women and infants. She wants to talk about pregnancy and children because she wants to let me know that over the past three years, not one infant has died in her town or in the municipality. “The last time an infant died,” she said, “was in 2008 when a child was born prematurely and had great difficulty breathing.” When we asked her how she remembered that death with such clarity, she said that for her as a doctor any death is terrible, but the death of a child must be avoided at all costs. “I wish I did not have to experience that,” she said.

Eradicate the Diseases of the Poor

The region of the Zapata Swamp, where the Bay of Pigs is located, before the Revolution, had an infant mortality rate of 59 per 1,000 live births. The population of the area, mostly engaged in subsistence fishing and in the charcoal trade, lived in great poverty. Fidel spent the first Christmas Eve after the Revolution of 1959 with the newly formed cooperative of charcoal producers, listening to them talk about their problems and working with them to find a way to exit the condition of hunger, illiteracy, and ill-health. A large-scale project of transformation had been set into motion a few months before, which drew in hundreds of very poor people into a process to lift themselves up from the wretched conditions that afflicted them. This is the reason why these people rose in large numbers to defend the Revolution against the attack by the United States and its mercenaries in 1961.

To move from 59 infant deaths out of every 1,000 live births to no infant deaths in the matter of a few decades is an extraordinary feat. It was done, Dr. Dayamis says, because the Cuban Revolution pays an enormous attention to the health of the population. Pregnant mothers are given regular care from primary care doctors and gynecologists and their infants are tended by pediatricians—all of it paid from the social wealth of the country. Small towns such as Palpite do not have specialists such as gynecologists and pediatricians, but within a short ride a few miles away, they can access these doctors in Playa Larga.

Walking through the Playa Giron museum earlier that day, the museum’s director Dulce María Limonta del Pozo tells us that the many of the captured mercenaries were returned to the United States in exchange for food and medicines for children; it is telling that this is what the Cuban Revolution demanded. From early into the Revolution, literacy campaigns and vaccination campaigns developed to address the facts of poverty. Now, Dr. Dayamis reports, each child gets between twelve and sixteen vaccinations for such ailments as smallpox and hepatitis.

In Havana’s Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB), Dr. Merardo Pujol Ferrer tells us that the country has almost eradicated hepatitis B using a vaccine developed by their Center. That vaccine—Heberbiovac HB—has been administered to 70 million people around the world. “We believe that this vaccine is safe and effective,” he said. “It could help to eradicate hepatitis around the world, particularly in poorer countries.” All the children in her town are vaccinated against hepatitis, Dr. Dayamis says. “The health care system ensures that not one person dies from diarrhea or malnutrition, and not one person dies from diseases of poverty.”

Public Health

What ails the people of Palpite, Dr. Dayamis says, are now the diseases that one sees in richer countries. It is one of the paradoxes of Cuba, which remains a country of limited means—largely because of the U.S. government’s blockade of this island of 11 million people—and yet has transcended the diseases of poverty. The new illnesses that she says are hypertension and cardiovascular diseases as well as prostate and breast cancer. These problems, she points out, must be dealt with by public education, which is why she has a radio show on Radio Victoria de Girón, the local community station, each Thursday, called Education for Health.

If we invest in sports, says Raúl Fornés Valenciano, the vice president of the Institute of Physical Education and Recreation (INDER), then we will have less problems of health. Across the country, INDER focuses on getting the entire population active with a variety of sports and physical exercises. Over 70,000 sports health workers collaborate with the schools and the centers for the elderly to provide opportunities for leisure time to be spent in physical activity. This, along with the public education campaign that Dr. Dayamis told us about, are key mechanisms to prevent chronic diseases from harming the population.

If you take a boat out of the Bay of Pigs and land in other Caribbean countries, you will find yourself in a situation where healthcare is almost nonexistent. In the Dominican Republic, for example, infant mortality is at 34 per 1,000 live births. These countries—unlike Cuba—have not been able to harness the commitment and ingenuity of people such as Dr. Dayamis and Dr. Merardo. In these other countries, children die in conditions where no doctor is present to mourn their loss decades later.

Author Bio: Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is an editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest books are Struggle Makes Us Human: Learning from Movements for Socialism and (with Noam Chomsky) The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power.

Manolo De Los Santos is the co-executive director of the People’s Forum and is a researcher at Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He co-edited, most recently, Viviremos: Venezuela vs. Hybrid War (LeftWord Books/1804 Books, 2020) and Comrade of the Revolution: Selected Speeches of Fidel Castro (LeftWord Books/1804 Books, 2021). He is a co-coordinator of the People’s Summit for Democracy.

Understanding Cuba's nonalignment foreign policy of peace and socialism

In Cuba, “nonalignment” has never meant being neutral, and has always meant being opposed to attempts to divide humanity.

Though Bandung in Indonesia and Havana in Cuba couldn’t be farther apart geographically—with each city located on two distant islands in their respective countries and separated by more than 17,000 km—they have been ideologically close in the imaginations of many people across the Global South. The Third World Project, born out of the continuous collaboration between the newly independent states and their struggles for national liberation, has defined and continues to define the history of the movements for peace and nonalignment even today.

This article was produced by the Morning Star and Globetrotter.

When the Bandung Conference began on April 18, 1955, Fidel Castro was still a political prisoner on what was then called the Isle of Pines, just south of Havana. He was serving a 15-year sentence for having organized a failed attack on the Moncada Barracks just two years before. In those prison years, during which a young Fidel read voraciously, he began to solidify his ideas on the concepts of sovereignty and independence and how they had to be redefined during the Cold War, when imperialism was developing new approaches about how to continue with the subjugation of whole continents.

As Fidel and his comrades in prison charted a new path for Cuba, it was clear that their cause for national liberation had to be closely connected to a broader project of ensuring development and work toward active nonalignment for the people of the Third World.

From the round table of Bandung in Indonesia, the leaders of the Third World unleashed a global struggle to restructure the prevailing world system of that time. The conference witnessed the convergence of socialist countries and the Third World and saw a growing unity among these nations in the struggles to deepen the process of decolonization.

While at the Bandung Conference, the independent governments of Asia and Africa raised the urgency of reviving the anti-imperialist and anti-colonial struggle and the need to increasingly unite and solidify the interests and aspirations of their people. The vast majority of the governments of Latin America, meanwhile, went against the common interests and aspirations of their people, and further submitted to U.S. imperialism under the guise of the Organization of American States (OAS), already functioning as the Ministry of Colonies of the U.S. Department of State, as Fidel would later call it.

In 1959, the Cuban Revolution triumphed. It marked a transformative point of no return for Latin America and its relations with the United States. The U.S. government would later decide not to recognize the revolutionary process on the island. By 1961, Cuba became the focal point of U.S. aggression in the region, leading to a blockade that is now six decades old. For the first time in history, a guerrilla movement had carried out a revolution and confronted U.S. imperialism right under its nose, unleashing far-reaching transformations in its socioeconomic structure, which were opposed to the neocolonial interests of U.S. domination.

Soon after, Cuba became the only country in Latin America to join the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), created in Yugoslavia in 1961. Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution would begin to play a strategic role in internationalist solidarity with the anti-imperialist and anti-colonial liberation struggles of the people of the Third World.

The Cuban Revolution was fully aware that its destiny was at one with that of the people of Latin America, Asia, and Africa. As Fidel said in 1962, “What is the history of Cuba if not the history of Latin America? And what is the history of Latin America if not the history of Asia, Africa, and Oceania? And what is the history of all these people if not the history of the most ruthless and cruel exploitation of imperialism in the entire world?”

When Cuba joined the NAM in 1961, its foreign policy was at a stage of strategic definition. Cuba’s commitment to the Third World became a pillar of its internationalist strategy, whether through the Non-Aligned Movement or the Tricontinental Conference, or the subsequent Organization of Solidarity of the People of Asia, Africa, and Latin America (OSPAAAL). In the coming decades, many of the national liberation movements that met in Havana in January 1966, during the first conference of OSPAAAL, would be among the new states that began to participate in the Non-Aligned Movement, becoming the new Third World paradigm.

Committed to Our Own Principles of Nonalignment

At the founding meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement in socialist Belgrade (then the capital of Yugoslavia) in 1961, Osvaldo Dorticós Torrado, Cuba’s president at the time, stated that nonalignment “didn’t mean that we are not committed countries. We are committed to our own principles. And those of us who are peace-loving people, who struggle to assert their sovereignty, and to achieve the fullness of national development, are, finally, committed to responding to those transcendent aspirations and not betraying those principles.” At a time when many criticized Cuba’s apparent “alignment” with the Soviet Union and attacked the premise of national liberation being tied to a socialist project, Dorticós in his opening speech, during the founding NAM meeting, sought to further define nonalignment, stating that the moment required “more than general formulations, [and that] concrete problems must be considered.”

This active definition of nonalignment has been important for Cuba’s foreign policy in its relationship with the most progressive forces of the Third World. The thinking of the Non-Aligned Movement, starting from 1973, seems to have abandoned the ideas about “neutrality” that had permeated the movement since its creation and has expanded its activities to international economic relations with much more force than in its previous period, in defense of the need for a new international economic order.

Since the fall of the USSR, and the rise of the United States to a position of near primacy, the NAM struggled to adapt to the new realities and became adrift. In recent years, however, with the revival of regionalism in Latin America, and with the emergence of Eurasian integration, the importance of nonalignment and the NAM are being gradually considered once again. People around the world are resistant to the coercion tactics adopted by the United States, which has been trying to isolate countries that do not submit to the will of Washington. This has especially become clear with the June 2022 Organization of American States’ Summit of the Americas, where countries such as Bolivia and Mexico have threatened to boycott the summit in Los Angeles if Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela are banned from attending it. As an alternative, the People’s Summit for Democracy carries forth the legacy of Bandung and Havana, bringing together the voices of the excluded.

Author Bio: Manolo De Los Santos is the co-executive director of the People’s Forum and is a researcher at Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He co-edited, most recently, Viviremos: Venezuela vs. Hybrid War (LeftWord Books/1804 Books, 2020) and Comrade of the Revolution: Selected Speeches of Fidel Castro (LeftWord Books/1804 Books, 2021). He is a co-coordinator of the People’s Summit for Democracy.

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