John McAuliff, the Executive Director of the Fund for Reconciliation and Development, is calling on the Biden administration to support NGOs and businesses to assist clean-up.
John McAuliff Fund for Reconciliation and Development support Matanzas oil fire recovery.
Photo: Yamil Lage/AFP/Getty Images

Cuba’s recent Mantazas oil fires were a brutal blow to the already struggling island. The impact from the oil storage facility’s destruction will be felt for a long time. Not to mention, the health implications from the release of toxic chemicals as the plume of smoke drifted towards Havana need to be studied so that care can be administered.

It’s now time to clean up and support the rehabilitation of the country’s electric system. And, frankly, it’s time to do it with the help of the United States. That’s what John McAuliff, the Executive Director of The Fund for Reconciliation and Development (FFDR), is calling on all of us to encourage the U.S. government to do.

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When the fires first began to rage in Cuba’s primary oil storage tanks in Matanzas on August 5th, U.S. agencies failed to provide or fund immediate material help. Despite our country’s history of support to nations around the world we did not offer the assistance we are known for, and capable of.

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Look, I get it. Things are complicated. They’re not black and white: they’re a shade of super messy gray. The U.S. and Cuba are 60 years into it. It’s not like this fire happened in France or another Western ally. But, sometimes we’ve got to get over ourselves, cut through the bureaucracy and see just a little bit of the forest through the trees.

That’s what McAuliff is suggesting with the petition he’s asking you to sign.

Since 1985, his organization has been on the front lines of building human connections between people of the U.S. and those of former adversaries. Originally working in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, the group’s primary goal is to seek ways to develop mutual understanding and trust.

It’s a noble cause.

McAuliff’s petition is aimed at encouraging Samantha Power, the Director of USAID, to fund U.S. NGOs and businesses to assist in the clean-up of the disaster. He’s asking that we all add our names to the petition to help move more aid for the Matanzas oil fire forward.

John McAuliff Fund for Reconciliation and Development wants you to support Matanzas oil fire.
Photo: Ramon Espinosa/AP

I believe in dialogue as a tool to move people forward. Therefore I support engagement with Cuba. And, I support our nation offering help in circumstances where human beings need the kind of assistance that we are good at.

I’ll leave it at that because I don’t believe this platform is a valuable tool if we blatantly use it to push an agenda – any agenda. I would ask though that you give McAuliff’s petition a look. At the very least, the eternally hopeful optimist in me thinks that U.S. assistance could be an olive branch in a stalemate between two nations pounding their chest at each other.

And… we may help a few people while we’re at it.

Matanzas Oil Fire Hero Image: Photo: Yamil Lage/AFP/Getty Images

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Ken Deckinger is the co-founder and CEO of Startup Cuba and the executive producer and host of its namesake docuseries. A native of South Florida, Ken has been an entrepreneur for his entire professional career. Previously he was co-founder and CEO of HurryDate, pioneering the global concept of speed dating to 45 cities throughout the US, UK and Canada. HurryDate eventually evolved into online dating and was acquired by Spark Networks, the parent company of and Ken is a graduate of Boston College and the University of Florida, where he was honored with the University’s Alumni Entrepreneur of the Year Under 40 award and sits on the Board for the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. He actively advises entrepreneurs and is a two-time protagonist of a Harvard Business School case study. Ken’s filmmaking and journalistic journey is inspired by a love of travel and authentic connections with other cultures. He believes that the more we know about each other, through stories, the closer we can become — thus the mission of Startup Cuba: to amplify the voices of the people sharing stories in the Latinx space. After living in New York City for 15 years, he encouraged his wife to move their family to Miami to get back to his South Florida roots. Needless to say, it was a short discussion and he and his family now call Boston, where his wife grew up, their home.

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