On August 7, a Cubana de Aviación cargo jet arrived at Maiquetía International Airport, north of Caracas. In addition to the 16 crew members, flight number 3310 brought to Venezuela 280 empty oxygen cylinders for hospital use, which belonged to the Cuban Medical Mission.
That same day, a Cuban Navy patrol vessel set sail from the Port of La Guaira, on the Caribbean coast of Venezuela, carrying 1,288 cylinders, already filled, to be transported straight to Santiago de Cuba.
“That boat arrived on August 5, and it literally went to get oxygen […]. The plane is to return the cylinders, because they don’t have any more,” said Alberto Ray, a consultant and director at the Risk Awareness Council, a U.S.-based organization dedicated to the analysis of security problems in the Americas.
The oxygen tanks are further proof of the support offered by Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro to his Cuban counterpart Miguel Díaz-Canel, following the heated popular protests that began on the island in early July.
On July 13, as street manifestations continued to unfold, Maduro publicly declared his support for Díaz-Canel. Four days later, Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodríguez traveled to Havana to assess ways for immediate cooperation with the Cuban president.
It was then that agreements began to refill oxygen tanks, necessary for treating coronavirus patients in intensive care units. These tanks are scarce in Venezuela. In late July, National Assembly representative Manuela Bolívar said on Twitter that the lack of oxygen in most hospitals in Venezuela was worsening.
In addition, Venezuela has been sending cowpeas, rice, and soup to Cuba. The cowpeas distributed on the island are included in the boxes of Venezuela’s food program, better known as the CLAP, the Cuban independent news portal 14ymedio.com reported. According to the website, grain production is lower than the requirements of the CLAP.
“Oil shipments are also maintained. It’s no longer the 100,000 barrels per day that they once shipped, but they do [continue],” Carlos Romero, a PhD in Political Science at the Central University of Venezuela, said. The Reuters news agency reported that the state oil company, PDVSA, had shipped 63,400 barrels per day to Cuba in July.
According to Ray, the Venezuelan government even advised Cuba on key points for handling the crisis, especially in terms of communication.
“They also collaborated by managing internet outages. Cuba’s connectivity depends, to a large extent, on Venezuela,” he said, referring to the Alba-1 project, a subsea fiber optic cable operated by a Venezuelan-Cuban joint venture, launched in 2013.
On July 11, thousands of people took to the streets to protest against the Cuban government due to lack of freedom, shortages of food and medicine, and the inadequate response to COVID-19. According to the NGO Human Rights Watch, the repression that the island’s regime unleashed caused the death of at least one person, and more than 500 arrests.