14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 6 February 2017 — In a dark corner along the national highway, with no lights to identify it, the connoisseurs of the secret enter an unpaved road. A few minutes earlier they had called from their cell phone asking if there were any ripe papayas. They park in the middle of a banana grove and open the fuel cap.
In the middle of nowhere, a barefoot, shirtless man carries a plastic jerrycan and with the help of a funnel fills the gas tank of an unlicensed taxi, that runs between Cienfuegos and Havana. It all happens in silence, barely uttering a word.
The scene repeats at different points along Cuba’s roads. These “gas stations” are not announced in the yellow pages of the phone book, nor do they appear on the on-line ad site, Revolico. They are the clandestine suppliers of fuel that comes from the state warehouses, especially those dedicated to agricultural uses.
A liter of gas, which in an official establishment costs 1 Cuban convertible peso (roughly $1 US), here has a price of 15 Cuban pesos (CUP), some 40% less. The cheapest that can be found is 12 CUP, and, very exceptionally and only between friends, 10 CUP. Gone are the times when a liter could be had for 8. The rise in prices was due to a drastic reduction in the quotas the state delivers to farms and cooperatives after Venezuela reduced the supply of hydrocarbons it sends to the island.
The rise in prices was due to a drastic reduction in the quotas the state delivers to farms and cooperatives after Venezuela reduced the supply of hydrocarbons it sends to the island.
The so-called black gold has the power in this country to become even darker in the “irregular” market. In official events they have declared that there are municipalities where, for months, the state gas stations have not sold a single liter of fuel, even though private vehicles continue to circulate without serious problems.
In the middle of last year, the authorities imposed price caps for private transport in the capital and other areas of the city, but the drivers have found several tricks to evade the restrictions. A good part of them circulate with fuel bought in the informal market. If they had to buy their fuel at the state gas stations their fares would go through the room and be unaffordable to the passengers, but an invisible hand is in charge of getting around the government’s measures.