Bribes In Exchange For Electricity / 14ymedio, Ricardo Fernandez

The 4,000-volt line is obsolete, and thus its transformers are not manufactured. (Ricardo Fernandez)
The 4,000-volt line is obsolete, and thus its transformers are not manufactured. (Ricardo Fernandez)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ricardo Fernandez, Camagüey, 13 June 2016 – Passing by my parents’ farm south of Camagüey, I have experienced the local storms that cause the heat of the day. Although these rains are beneficial to the crops, many times they are accompanied by thunderstorms that cause overloads in the miles of “clotheslines” (the illegal connections made with all kinds of wires) that bring the current – with deficient voltage and poor strength – to the farmers’ houses. Last Wednesday afternoon’s storm left us in the dark all night, but also permanently damaged the old transformer that powered thirty farms.

A couple of days later the electric company’s linemen came out because, as they said, “the line failed.” We neighbors helped them to navigate the swampy roads on horseback to find the problem. When we realized the transformer needed to be replaced our blood ran cold. The last time it happened it took a week to find a replacement, since the 4,000 volt line is obsolete and the transformers are no longer manufactured. We neighbors quickly agreed among ourselves and, with great tact, offered a juicy gift to “expedite” the work. The amount collected between us seemed small, faced with the prospect of having to milk the cows in the dark and withstand the intense heat of the nights.

After many efforts, the linemen found the parts in a warehouse in Camagüey and returned to make the repair. We all got together to help, eyes as bright as kids seeing so many tools for which our minds had already conceived alternate uses. When we took the transformer down, the equipment had a hole in the grounding terminal. With little shame, we asked them to let us take a little bit of the oil coming out of the hole, because it is most effective for waterproofing harnesses and saddles, as well as for making them shine.

After the excitement of the reestablishment of the flow of electricity it’s time to reflect, and some questions come to mind. Why isn’t the Electric Company responsible for expediting repairs in rural areas? Why isn’t safe and secure electricity provided to farmers to improve their living conditions and the performance of their land? Why aren’t farmworkers paid a salary commensurate with the risk and complexity of their work? How long will we have to offer bribes to receive what it ours by right?

Speaking with the linemen we know that in Latin American countries their work pays approximately 60 dollars an hour. If they earned a living wage here in Cuba there would be no need for bribes-gifts to expedite their efforts. If the government propaganda that says they want people to return to the countryside is true, they should, at least, electrify the farms to be able to use irrigation systems instead of primitive dry land planting, as well as to improve living conditions in the countryside. We know that this implies huge investments, but it would also produce huge gains for the electric company because the farmers pay for electricity at a rate of 5 pesos per kilowatt consumed over the first 5,000.

To put it more simply, a house with an electric stove, a refrigerator and a fan, can expect to pay 400 Cuban pesos a month; but a farmer who uses electricity to irrigate his land will pay 13,459 Cuban pesos for 5,000 kilowatts. These high rates would bring in millions of pesos, which nullifies any excuse with respect to the claim of lack of budget.