As of August 9, the disastrous oil tank fire continues to burn in the Cuban province of Matanzas. Many in the nearby United States are eager to provide humanitarian aid, but US sanctions against Cuba make solidarity attempts difficult. As a result, a group of Cuba solidarity activists in the US have launched a campaign entitled “Sanctions Fuel the Fire” on August 9.
The campaign has three central demands of the Joe Biden administration: lift the 243 sanctions Trump enacted during his administration, remove Cuba from the “State Sponsors of Terrorism” list, and send material aid to the island.
“The United States loses nothing by being a good neighbor and lifting the 243 sanctions that prevent Cuba from recovering fully from this tragic moment,” writes the campaign. “The Biden Administration can do more than just offer technical advice. It can immediately remove Cuba from the State Sponsors of Terrorism List with the stroke of a pen and send material aid to the island.”
Thus far the United States has not offered material aid to Cuba, only “technical advice,” unlike the governments of Venezuela and Mexico, who have already sent personnel and aid.
The inclusion of Cuba on the list of “State Sponsors of Terrorism” list and the 243 sanctions enacted during the Trump administration make it nearly impossible to send money directly to Cuba. Instead, Cuba solidarity initiatives must raise money to then purchase aid to send to Cuba, adding a layer of complication. And on top of this complication, Cuba solidarity groups are slandered as “foreign agents” participating in “illegal” activity by right-wing politicians such as Marco Rubio.
These obstacles only compound the devastating effects of the 60-year blockade that the US imposes on Cuba.
“Just like when we have found ourselves in the midst of natural disasters in the US, these difficult circumstances in Cuba call for international cooperation and solidarity,” said Hannah Craig, who signed on to the “Sanctions Fuel the Fire” campaign and who is a part of the International Peoples’ Assembly. “When tragedy strikes, I want to know that my neighbors will be there for me. Lifting the sanctions on our neighbor, Cuba, is the least the US could do in this moment of crisis.”
The fire has thus far claimed one life, with 17 firefighters still missing. 125 Cubans have been hospitalized, of which 19 are still in the hospital and 106 have been discharged.
Authorities in Matanzas say that there are 904 evacuees in state centers and 3,840 in the homes of relatives and friends.