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Miami Herald
Miami Herald
Nora Gámez Torres

Cuba has not officially requested US help to put out oil fire, State Department says

U.S. firefighting experts have provided technical advice to Cuban officials regarding the fire at an oil storage facility at the port of Matanzas, but that is as far as the cooperation has gone because the Cuban government has not requested other types of assistance from the United States, the State Department says.

The clarification comes after a Cuban diplomat suggested on social media the island’s government asked for help from the international community, but that it was the Biden administration’s decision to offer only technical guidance.

After domestic teams could not control a fire that started Friday night in a crude-oil tank, Cuban authorities asked for help from “friendly countries,” they said, and received foam, chemical agents, pumps and other technical equipment from Mexico and Venezuela.

Many Cubans and Cuban Americans also called on the Cuban government to accept assistance from the U.S.

On Saturday, the U.S. embassy in Havana said it was in contact with the Cuban government regarding the fire, and Cuba’s leader Miguel Díaz-Canel publicly thanked “the offer of technical advice from the U.S.” on Twitter.

But for the U.S. to provide disaster assistance to any country, such as a response team or equipment to put out a fire, it needs an official request from that nation’s government, according to standard diplomatic protocols.

“U.S. firefighting experts with experience dealing with oil storage facilities have talked to Cuban officials to offer technical advice,” a State Department spokesperson said. “We have had general discussions with the government of Cuba on this tragic disaster. However, the government of Cuba has not formally requested U.S. government assistance.”

The State Department also said that the U.S. embargo was not an obstacle to providing aid to Cuba in case of disasters. The U.S. embassy in Havana said it wanted to facilitate sending humanitarian aid to the island and provided a contact email to those interested:

Cuban authorities have not said if they formally requested assistance from the U.S.

But on comments on social media, Cuban diplomat Johana Tablada, deputy chief of U.S. affairs at the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that the U.S. government was lying about Cuba not asking for help.

U.S. officials “already said that the only thing they could help with was technical assistance,” she responded on Facebook to someone inquiring about U.S. aid. “You may believe whomever you want,” she said. “I remind you that in recent years the United States government has gone very far with the lies to justify its political abuse against Cuba.”

State media journalists and social media accounts linked to the government have been promoting the idea that the U.S. could have just sent the aid. Several publications on Twitter quote Diaz-Canel, who speaking about the support from Venezuela and Mexico, said their leaders expressed their willingness to help Cuba “with no conditions.”

Díaz-Canel said he was impressed by Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who he said told him, “You help your friends without asking.”

Trying to end the controversy, Cuba’s vice minister of foreign affairs, Carlos Fernández de Cossío, tweeted Tuesday, “The U.S. government offered condolences on Saturday, August 6, at noon via the State Department, which we thanked directly and publicly. It offered technical advice, which we also appreciated and accepted. There is frequent communication between both governments. There is no room for speculations.”

In a statement Tuesday, several U.S. organizations that favor engagement with Cuba, including the Center for Democracy in the Americas, the Cuba Study Group and the Washington Office on Latin America urged the White House “to call for expedited disaster relief support across all relevant agencies and extend the necessary emergency humanitarian aid to respond to the incident and its ramifications on the island. “

On Tuesday afternoon, Cuban authorities expressed cautious optimism that the fire could be contained but warned it might take days to extinguish it fully.

Images shared by state media show extensive damage to the oil storage facility known as the Matanzas Supertanker Base. So far, four of the eight tanks in the facility have been affected by the fire, which authorities said started after lighting struck one of the tanks containing Cuban crude oil.

The head of the Communist Party in Matanzas, Sucely Morfa, said two of 16 firefighters reported missing in the blaze were found in hospitals. Fourteen remain unaccounted for.


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