The Most Coveted of Perfumes

Chronicles of deaths that could have been prevented are being shown for everyone to see

 Vincent Morin Aguado

The next morning. Photo:

HAVANA TIMES — While others were laughing and bending their elbows there in a bar in Havana, I was perplexed by the almost endless minutes of the video I had just unexpectedly seen there.

The recording, which must have been copied from some foreign broadcast, was improvised material from the camera of someone who must have been an amateur photographer. Nevertheless, it displayed the stark truth of whomever it was whose fate had been to be there and to film what occurred.

In the national media they spoke to us about the accident at a gas station on La Trocha Street in Santiago de Cuba. Gasoline had poured out into the streets, eventually causing a fire that burned more than thirty people, some of them very seriously. Later I found that several people died despite the medical attention they received.

Describing what was seen is to reflect about reality and to draw not only one’s own conclusions (as one TV host here always says) but to also draw collective conclusions, which are much more important.

While we’re still waiting for the final report from the authorities, we can see from this videotaped testimony that a vehicle struck a gas pump, causing the leakage of fuel that quickly turned into a stream – not one of romantic crystalline waters, but rather of a well-known and dangerously flammable liquid.

The firefighters are shown arriving in a vehicle from their station, each member dressed in the appropriate outfit for their risky mission. They look and look again, but forget their main function: prevention.

Nor do the workers at the gas station show themselves as rising to the occasion. There were extinguishers ready to go into combat mode, but the minds of the people who should have used them were somewhere else.

As for the crowd, far from trying to distance themselves from the site, to evacuate the area to prevent their direct involvement with an imminent fire, people can be seen gathering around the pump and its river of gas. Many of them were “fishing” for that precious Black Gold, collecting fuel even in the helmets of the numerous of motorcycles drivers (something natural in Santiago, a city where these vehicles traditionally serve as mini-taxis).

Time passed and then occurs the expected, if not somewhat late. Someone yells, “Run! Here come the police!” which produces a flight of improvised and irresponsible thieves, mainly people driving motorcycles.

A spark ignites the gasoline, and a thin line of flame runs along first to the pump and then to the main tank, all concluding in a huge explosion.

Finally, I could make out the firefighters operating their hoses and other equipment.

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