Being Cold or Fear of the Electric Bill

The entrance to Roseland in Havana, a store selling appliances in hard currency. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, February 4, 2021 — On Thursday the corner of Neptuno and Águila in central Havana seemed different. Since a store which only accepted foreign currency was opened in the iconic Roseland store, the place has been filled with eager customers looking to buy appliances that have disappeared from the nation’s network of retail stores. But despite the abundant supply of air conditioners, the place was practically empty.

The air conditioners known as ’splits’, which have a one-ton refrigeration capacity, cost $310 at Roseland, but can be sold for double the price on the black market, are in high demand not only from those who want to cool some part of their house but from resellers. This has resulted in long lines every time there is an announcement that the units have arrived.

What’s happening this February to dampen customers’ enthusiasm is not so obvious? Are the low temperatures the western part of the country is experiencing making them forget the rigors of the island’s long summer? The answer can be found in the new electricity fees that went into effect at the beginning of the year and that are generating hefty bills in those houses where at least one room has an air conditioner. The prospect of getting bills in the four-figure bills is frightening for Cubans.

Last January, an avalanche of demands forced the government to reduce the increase in electric rates, especially for residential customers who use between 251 and 500 kWh a month, the largest group affected by the new higher rates. However, consumers who use more than 300 kWh, mainly those whose homes have air conditioning, remain among those most impacted by the increase.

Splits have gone from being a status symbol to being a headache. Buyers now know they have to both shell out a considerable sum of money to buy a unit and be ready to pay a high electric bill. “It doesn’t make sense,” says a curious passerby on Thursday, surprised to see there was no line to buy them outside the store.

Piled up next to the boxes of splits are electric ovens, air fryers, electric skillets and rice cookers. All are home appliances that until recently were in high demand but today “are black holes that gobble up money,” as the same passerby observed after watching one customer carry off two boxed air conditioners in a pedicab.


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