Blackouts for Cuba’s Private Restaurants But Not for State Hotels

A private business in Havana with air conditioning (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 7 October 2019 — The owner of a spacious restaurant in Vedado walks around the premises carrying a fan to place it near a table where some customers are sweating buckets. “I am very sorry but they have put me a fixed quota of electricity and I can barely turn on the air conditioning,” the owner of the paladar (private restaurant) apologizes to the surprised tourists.

Energy cuts, caused by the drastic reduction in Venezuelan oil shipments, are affecting state activities, starting with public transport, but also private companies such as paladares and rental houses. Over the past few weeks, the authorities have met with self-employed entrepreneurs whose businesses are “higher electricity consumers,” a source from the Council of the Provincial Administration of Havana confirmed to 14ymedio.

“First we call on their conscience in these moments the country is experiencing, but also to those who have higher consumption of kilowatts we have presented a plan with a usage limit.”

Lourdes, who manages a house with three rooms for tourists in the municipality of Centro Habana, has had to adjust to the new circumstances. “Each of the rooms I rent has a minibar, an air conditioner of the kind that people call a ’split’*, and a bathroom with an electric shower to heat the water,” she says. “Now I have had to ask customers to turn on the air for just a little while and to try to bathe in cold water.”

“It is true that you have to save, you always have to save, but I pay very dearly for electricity consumption to be able to provide comfort to my customers and now they will have to suffer heat because I can not exceed the plan they have given me that is far below the needs of this business,” protests the self-employe woman.

In Cuba the consumption of each kilowatt costs .09 Cuban pesos (less than a cent USD), but when exceeding 100 and up to 150 the rate rises to 0.30 and after the 300 kilowatts consumed the price is 1.50 CUP (6 cents USD) per kilowatt. High consumers, such as pizzerias with electric ovens, large restaurants and private hostels that exceed 5,000 kilowatts per month, pay 5 CUP per kilowatt over that limit.

“I usually pay the equivalent of about 3,500 CUP each month for the electric bill,” the owner of a rental house with four rooms a few meters from the Plaza de San Francisco in Havana tells this newspaper. “Now, after the meeting we had, they have put me in a plan that I can’t exceed 2,500 kilowatts and I don’t know how I’m going to do it without affecting the service.” Self-employed people fear losing their landlord licenses if they do not comply with the savings measures that the authorities ask them to follow.

Private sector workers were hopeful about the recent visit of the Russian prime minister to the Island and the possibility that the Island’s old ally could help with the oil supply. But so far there are no official announcements that the Kremlin will send crude to Cuba and Dimitri Medvedev declined Miguel Díaz-Canel’s request to use Russian military ships to escort the Venezuelan tankers that are on the way, loaded with 3.83 million barrels of crude and fuel, according to data from Refinitiv Eikon and PDVSA.

In addition, these shipments may not be repeated if the crisis worsens in Caracas and the US is even more rigorous about applying the prohibition on delivering Venezuelan oil to Cuba.

“Although most of my clients come here to enjoy the terrace or the rooftop, they occasionally need to cool off,” explains Mary, another private landlord with a house halfway between the Museum of the Revolution and the Spanish Embassy Cuban capital. “I’m asking them to only turn on the split to sleep but I can’t force them.”

The measure does not seem to affect the state or mixed hotels yet. When 14ymedio visited the hotels England, Telegraph, Plaza, Vedado, Habana Libre, Cohiba, Packard, Apple Kempinski, President and Both Worlds, in all of them air conditioners d to operate throughout the day in common spaces such as lobbies, indoor cafes and business rooms, as well as in the rooms where customers control the use of the air conditions at their own convenience.

“This is the time for people who make fans,” says Mildred, a craftswoman who sells her products at the San José Warehouses a few meters from the Sierra Maestra Cruise Terminal. “Many businesses in this area were severely affected by the fall of the arrival of the cruise ships and now they are adding the problem of electricity consumption,” she says.

Last June the administration of Donald Trump vetoed educational group trips to Cuba and cruise ships, one of the routes that thousands of Americans used to visit the Island. Authorizations for pleasure and passenger boats, along with private flights, were also cancelled in order to reduce the dollar earnings that come to the Cuban government.

The fear is that “what seems temporary now becomes permanent,” Mildred adds. “They are asking you to lower power consumption but they are not telling you clearly how long this measure will last and people are afraid it will be for a long time, as has happened with other things. “

Facing the sea, a cafe that offers tapas based on olives, ham, cheese and some seafood has its doors wide open. “Before we had two areas for all tastes: outside with the sea breeze or inside with air conditioning,” says Lázaro Manuel, one of the waiters. “But now it’s better to be outside because we can’t turn on the air inside and it’s very hot.”

*Translator’s note: The same term is used in the U.S. It refers to a room-by-room type of air conditioner, versus ’central air.’


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