British tourists on board deadly bus crash in Cuba

Harriet Alexander
The bus that overturned on the Baracoa-Havana road - AFP

British pensioners on holiday in Cuba have been injured in a bus crash which killed seven, including four foreign tourists.

The Via Azul coach was travelling between the small city of Baracoa, on the far eastern tip of the island, and the capital Havana when it overturned.

Baracoa, an attractive coastal community where Christopher Columbus first set foot, is somewhat off the beaten track.

However, its laid-back atmosphere and proximity to tropical rainforests, mountain hikes and waterfalls have seen it grow in popularity, especially for travellers seeking eco-tourism experiences and historical sites.

Via Azul is a state-run company, normally known for being reliable and operating at high standards.

Doctors in the town of Guantanamo treat a survivor of the crash

A Frenchman, a German woman and two Argentine women were among the dead, along with three Cubans, Venceremos newspaper said. More than 30 people were injured.

Three Cubans and two foreigners - 42-year-old Spaniard Felicita Hurtado and French woman Marline Alphonse, 63 – survived the crash, but were said to be in a serious condition.

"Of the 40 passengers, 22 were foreigners from countries like Holland, England, France, Mexico and Canada," said Venceremos.

The driver of the coach said he lost control on a wet road, claiming to have been driving slowly. However, witnesses said the driver had been attempting to overtake another vehicle when he found himself face to face with oncoming traffic, causing him to swerve off the road.

Cuba’s roads vary enormously in repair, with some well maintained, but others in serious need of refurbishment. Traffic accidents are the fifth greatest cause of death in Cuba; in 2017 there were 11,187 road accidents in Cuba, which killed 750 people and left 7,999 injured.

An ambulance takes away survivors

Furthermore, vehicle standards vary significantly.

The classic cars of the 1950s still ply the roads, but many are falling into disrepair and being replaced by new imports from China.

In recent years Beijing has made significant inroads into the island, investing heavily in infrastructure and shipping in their own cars and buses – taking advantage of the US turning its back on Havana under president Donald Trump.

His tightening of the trade embargo has made it harder to obtain essential parts for cars and machinery, which is testing Cuba’s famed inventiveness to the limits.