Celebrities Join Cuban Regime in Claiming That Lifting Human Rights Sanctions Will Stop Fire

People watch a huge plume of smoke rise from the Matanzas supertanker base, as firefighters work to douse a fire that started during a thunderstorm the night before, in Matanzas, Cuba, Sunday, Aug. 7, 2022. Cuban authorities say lightning struck a crude oil storage tank at the base, sparking a …
AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa

Several prominent American leftist celebrities in academia and music signed a letter published by the Cuban External Relations Ministry on Wednesday demanding an end to American sanctions on the island’s communist regime, falsely claiming that the sanctions block Washington from helping put out the largest fire in the nation’s history.

Communist Party officials claimed on Friday that lightning struck its largest oil depot in the northern city of Matanzas, starting a fire that continues to burn five days later at press time.

The Castro regime’s firemen, with the aid of firefighters from leftist allies Venezuela and Mexico, have failed to put out the fire and do not appear to have begun addressing the environmental devastation that the fire — which created “oily” rain in Havana, 60 miles away — is causing. Thousands in greater Matanzas province have evacuated the area, leaving the city and its suburbs practically empty.

The United States has offered “technical” assistance to Cuba, according to the Department of State, and stands willing to provide other help if requested, emphasizing that nothing in the currently active sanctions or the barely existent Cuban “embargo” prevent Washington from offering emergency humanitarian aid. State Department officials have told multiple media outlets that they have received no formal request from the Castro regime to help. Sending Americans into Cuba to help put out the fire could be interpreted as an “invasion” by the rogue regime and prompt violence, as the Castro regime has a history of killing Americans — even in international waters — for attempting humanitarian missions to the island.

Despite the public offers of help from Washington, high-profile leftists such as Cornel West, Gina Belafonte (Harry Belafonte’s daughter), Roger Waters, former British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, and Noam Chomsky lent their names to the Castro regime’s efforts to shame America for the Matanzas fire.

“We are making an urgent, public appeal to you to reject the cruel policies put into place by the Trump White House that have already created so much suffering among the Cuban people,” the celebrities write in an open letter to leftist President Joe Biden, who had reportedly planned to return to the pro-regime policies of the Obama era before the Castro regime violently subdued nationwide protests on July 11, 2021. The Castro regime published the letter on a website branded “Let Cuba Live.”

“This fire, the largest in Cuban history, comes when Cuba is undergoing an energy crisis due to soaring global fuel costs and aging infrastructure. This oil tank fire will undoubtedly only further exacerbate the electricity outages that Cubans suffer during this hot summer,” the letter admits, without noting that the reason Cuba’s infrastructure is “aging” and neglected is 63 years of plundering by Fidel Castro and his immediate family.

“Unfortunately, U.S. sanctions fuel the fires that rage in Cuba!” the letter declares, without explaining what, if any, connection the sanctions have to the lighting strike that allegedly caused the fire. “When your neighbor’s house is on fire, the normal human reaction is to rush next door to help. To save lives. To extinguish the flames. Cuba is our neighbor.! It is unconscionable, especially during a tragic accident, to block remittances and Cuba’s use of global financial institutions, given that access to dollars is necessary to import food and medicine.”

The Cuban “embargo” on the part of the U.S. government does not block food and medicine imports.

“The administration should lift all sanctions that prevent Cuba, directly or indirectly, from receiving essential medical, humanitarian, and environmental relief or receiving financial and other assistance from other nations or organizations in the U.S.,” the letter demands. “This includes removing Cuba from the State Sponsors of Terrorism List.”

Cuba’s External Relations Ministry boasted on Wednesday that it had collected “a distinguished group of politicians, intellectuals, scientists, clergymen, artists, musicians, leaders, and activists” to protest the alleged impact sanctions on Cuba have on fighting the Matanzas fire.

The regime also pre-wrote Twitter-length posts for supporters to spam the American social media outlet with featuring false statements about the nature of American sanctions on the Castro regime, including

  • The largest fire in Cuba’s history has been raging for over three days. Despite their request for international aid, the US govt has only offered technical advice. It’s time for Biden to do more! Lift all sanctions and send aid to Cuba. #SanctionsFueltheFire
  • If Biden refuses to send aid to Cuba, he should at least lift sanctions and allow US organizations to send food, medicine & other supplies without restrictions. #SanctionsFueltheFire
  • Including our neighbor, Cuba, on the list of state sponsors of terrorism means its nearly impossible to send resources so that it can face this terrible fire that has already taken lives and injured many. Biden: help the Cuban people and lift all 243 sanctions. #SanctionsFueltheFire

American sanctions on Cuba largely target the regime’s most prominent repressors, including longtime Party leader Raúl Castro and figurehead “president” Miguel Díaz-Canel. They do not prohibit offers of humanitarian or emergency assistance. Any entity wishing to export American goods to Cuba can avail themselves of a long list of exceptions to the embargo that includes “items for the environmental protection of U.S. and international air quality, waters and coastlines, including items related to renewable energy or energy efficiency.” Given the proximity between Florida and Matanzas, about 100 miles, items to help stop the oil depot fire would likely fall under this exception.

The U.S. government also offers a general exception to allow the export of “items to meet the needs of the Cuban people, including items for export or reexport to state-owned enterprises, agencies, and other organizations of the Cuban government that provide goods and services for the use and benefit of the Cuban people.”

“Through the Departments of Commerce, Treasury, and Transportation, there are many options available for expediting the provision of humanitarian goods to Cuba,” the State Department explained in a fact sheet after the July 2021 protests, which renewed American interest in the dire situation Cubans are living in under communism. “We actively encourage those seeking to support the Cuban people to use these options and contact us if there are issues.”

American authorities confirmed on Tuesday in a response to Miami’s WPLG Local 10 that the Castro regime had not reached out to ask Washington for help in putting out the fire, effectively making it impossible for America to do so.

American unnamed “sources” also told the independent Cuban outlet 14 y Medio that Cuba had not requested aid through the proper diplomatic channels — only complained publicly about an alleged lack of support.

A U.S. government representative similarly told another Cuban independent outlet, Periodismo del Barrio, that American fire extinguishing experts had held conversations with Cuban counterparts and emphasized, “the American embargo includes a general authorization for transactions related to humanitarian projects or … disaster response.”

As of Wednesday, the fire had destroyed four of the oil depot’s eight mega-tanks for storing fuel and continued to burn, though Cuban firefighting authorities claimed that the fire had finally been “contained.” According to the outlet Cubanet, about 5,000 people had been formally evacuated and 125 injured, including several in critical condition. About 14 people remain missing and the government has confirmed only one death, though relatives of missing firefighters have posted on social media grieving statements suggesting unofficial awareness that their loved ones have died.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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