“The challenge is that they don’t manage the industry well,” said Emilio Morales, president of the Miami-based Havana Consulting Group, which focuses on the Cuban economy. “The business requires capital; it requires financing to maintain the planes.”
Founded in 1929, Cubana de Aviación was once the pride of the Caribbean, replete with modern planes and top-flight maintenance. But as with so many elements of Cuba’s infrastructure and transportation, that progress began to slowly, and then suddenly halt, following the revolution, economic sanctions and, later, the fall of the Soviet Union, which had helped keep the nation afloat financially.
Cars hailing from the 1960s roll down pockmarked streets, past unpainted buildings and under worn bridges. And while the government has maintained its commitment to social services, whether free health care or education, money has grown scarce.
That reality has set in for the airline industry, leaving the state airline with limited options to upgrade old planes or get new ones.
Cubana has struggled with a spotty safety record in the past — including several crashes in the late 1990s that left scores dead. The tragedies include crashes in Ecuador, Guatemala, Venezuela and off the island’s southeast coast.
Friday’s crash occurred just after noon, following the plane’s departure from Havana for the eastern city of Holguín. Emergency workers and nearby residents raced to the scene, where the battered remnants of the plane kicked up plumes of thick smoke, trying to rescue survivors.
Ramiro Santana Martínez, 46, a construction worker who lives about 50 yards from the crash site, said he was near his house when he heard an explosion, quickly followed by a second one.