“My heart is crushed by my powerlessness in the face of so much sorrow. This tragedy has already claimed the lives of 108 passengers and crew of a Cubana de Aviacion plane built in 1979. An independent international investigation is absolutely essential!” – Rosa María Payá

Deutsche Welle, May 20, 2018

Opinion: Yoani Sanchez:  In Cuba, a time of tragedy — and for transparency

Cuba’s government will come under pressure to be transparent about the circumstances of last week’s plane crash. However, transparency is by no means certain, the Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez writes.

Friday’s crash of a Boeing 737-200 plane just after takeoff from Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport occurred at a particularly inopportune moment for Cuba’s government. Over the past few months, the country’s diplomatic thaw with the United States has given way to a new Ice Age. The economy is also under strain as tourist numbers fall — they were down 7 percent in the first quarter of 2018 alone. The government is notoriously strapped for cash, and a disaster of this magnitude may have an even deeper impact on the national economy.

The situation is further aggravated by the financial meltdown in allied Venezuela. Cuban authorities will likely need to admit international investigators as Mexican and Argentine citizens were among the people killed in the crash. With these foreign parties also searching for answers, the secretiveness that usually surrounds such investigations at a national level will be severely tested.

Screen Shot 2018-05-21 at 2.49.12 PM.png

The dissident Yoani Sánchez is the author of the Generacion Y blog

Media have just reported that the aging Raul Castro, who still heads the Communist Party despite stepping down as Cuba’s president, has had to undergo an operation. He was succeeded only a few weeks ago by the engineer Miguel Diaz-Canel, who faces a tremendous challenge as the first president of the post-Castro Cuba. He looked alarmed in images released from the crash site on Friday; he was probably wondering what political consequences the accident might have for him.

Worst of all, of course, is what the relatives of the victims are experiencing. More than 100 Cubans were among the 110 people killed when the plane crashed at 12:08 p.m. (1608 UTC) on Friday. They will now have to deal with the enduring pain of loss and the anguish of identifying the bodies, as well as the intensive political campaigns by the government that will accompany every step of the medical and police investigations.


Right to answers

Relatives will never forget their last moments with the loved ones whom they have lost. They will think about the chances that resulted in their boarding that particular aircraft, which was leased from Mexico’s Global Air. They will hear stories of people who were unable to get last-minute tickets for the plane, and of others who hadn’t planned to take this flight but who are now on the list of victims.

Questions are being raised and explanations demanded in a country that is accustomed to being very sparing in its divulging of information. Yet even the most indulgent of Cubans will realize that this accident could have been predicted.

The national carrier, Cubana de Aviacion, has been in crisis for years on account of the appalling state of its aircraft — mostly decrepit old Russian planes. Flights are constantly being canceled as a result. The dilapidation of its own fleet has forced the airline to lease planes from other companies on a permanent basis. The confidence of domestic customers is consequently at an all-time low.

The next few days will be critical. The reaction of the victims’ relatives will depend, to a large extent, on how the authorities and the airline deal with information about the crash. Transparency is clearly in order; it remains to be seen whether the Cuban government is capable of providing that.

Every evening at 1830 UTC, DW’s editors send out a selection of news and features. You can sign up to receive it here.

Yoani Sanchez