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Scenes of the industrial fire in Cuba.
The industrial fire in Matanzas was the worst in the history of Cuba. Photo: Yamil Lage/AFP via Getty Images.

Humanitarian coalition calls for U.S. aid to Cuba after six-day industrial fire

The letter underscored Cuba’s ongoing issues with a deteriorating electrical grid, urging the U.S. to respond with a multi-pronged approach.

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Several U.S.-based Cuban organizations are urging the federal government in a letter to issue immediate disaster relief efforts to Cuba after an industrial explosion and fire burned out of control for six days at Cuba’s biggest oil depot in Matanzas, in the west of the country. 

The Washington Office of Latin America is leading the effort to get the U.S. to act. 

“This sudden loss of fuel and storage capacity infrastructure caused by the fire is likely to aggravate the energy situation in the island and contribute to outward migration,” the letter read. 

Because of the complicated commercial relationship between the U.S. and Cuba, which prohibits any form of embargo or trade between the two countries, a response from the federal government will require a delicate diplomatic approach.

WOLA urged the federal government to lift the sanctions imposed decades ago to initiate relief. They cited a previous humanitarian agreement in 2017 as the framework where the U.S. activated the National Guard to assist with an oil spill from the Gulf of Mexico. 

“Disaster relief cooperation with Cuba has a long-standing precedent, even in the midst of a tense bilateral relationship with the United States,” the letter read, while noting the urgency of a long-term agreement. 

“In the short-term, aid is needed but the ramifications of this event will be felt for years and require long-term commitments in disaster relief and climate change mitigation programs to help Cuba recover,” it continued.

To that end, the coalition is also calling to restart the U.S.-Cuba Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Working Group, a partnership between the Department of State and the Cuban ministry to discuss the future of Energy in Cuba.

“Joint efforts by the United States and Cuba have resulted in some of the most effective responses to natural disasters, demonstrated need on both sides for cooperation to provide healthcare solutions, and create systems to efficiently respond to and mitigate damage from man-made environmental catastrophes,” the letter read. 

The U.S. has a history of intervening through disaster relief response in countries with scarce resources to manage fatal events. 

In 2010, following deadly earthquakes in Haiti, the U.S. mobilized an inter-departmental federal response to send aid to Cuba, including medical personnel, food, shelter, and hygiene assistance.

A similar humanitarian effort was coordinated by the U.S. for Pakistan in 2008. 

The administration has not issued any statements. It remains unclear whether the Department of State or National Guard have been briefed. 

AL DÍA previously reported that China’s Xi Ping said in a statement, he would be sending humanitarian assistance, expressing shock at the events that unfolded in the Matanza province.

There are no specifics surrounding what China’s disaster relief effort will entail.

A preliminary investigation found that lighting struck the facility,  setting off the explosion that swept the industrial grounds on Friday, Aug. 5, at 7 p.m. The subsequent fire burned out of control for six days, leaving one firefighter dead, 14 missing, and hundreds injured.

The fire compounds an already deteriorating energy grid for Cuba, with a history of country-wide blackouts, lack of fuel, and random outages

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