Every Man for Himself, Blackouts are Growing in Cuba and so is the Market for Generators

Since August 15, Cubans are allowed to import up to two power generators without commercial purposes. (CMKX Radio Bayamo/Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 16 August 2022 — “Noiseless and efficient,” according to the text that accompanies the photo of a power generator that, for about $4,000, promises to exorcise the demon from the blackouts. The most precious status symbol on the Island is a device that keeps appliances running when the government cuts off the power. Only surpassed by a plane ticket to emigrate.

The energy deficit, due to the poor state of the thermoelectric plants and the lack of fuel, has plunged Cubans into darkness. In large areas of the country, electricity appears for only a few moments, not exceeding ten hours of service per day. Cooking, cooling off or being able to drink a glass of cold water depend on running devices that invariably need power.

Since August 15, with the easing of customs measures, Cubans can import up to two generators with a maximum power of 15,000 watts without commercial purposes. The duty payment may vary depending on the capacity of the device and whether the traveler brings in other goods that are also taxed, but that small opening has been enough to trigger the market for generators.

Ibrahim has been traveling to Panama for six years to import household appliances. “The pandemic almost put me out of business because I couldn’t travel for some time, but now I’m back on track,” he tells 14ymedio. “The most profitable thing right now is to bring in generators, because people are desperate and pay well for them. If you don’t have a generator, you don’t have quality of life.”

Those who don’t have the resources to buy one appeal to ingenuity: blades of a fan that are driven by pedaling a bicycle, improvised beds in the doorway or on a terrace to take advantage of even the smallest breeze in the early hours of the morning, and the traditional hand fan that serves to refresh the skin and scare away mosquitoes are just some of the ways, but they are only palliative and barely calm the discomfort.

Living in the Havana neighborhood of Nuevo Vedado, Ibrahim’s clients are middle-income people, often with families abroad who can help them with their expenses and who don’t want to go through the blackout without being able to turn on at least one fan, a rice cooker or a television. “I haven’t left Cuba yet, and I already have six orders for generators.”

“The most in demand right now are those that use both gasoline and propane, because there’s no guarantee that one of the two can always be bought. Diesel ones also have their market,” he explains to this newspaper. “The problem is that now it has also become a problem to get the fuel, so buying the device doesn’t end the problem,” he admits.

Among Ibrahim’s clients are families who seek to ease domestic life during power outages but also some entrepreneurs. “I have people who can’t afford to lose power because valuable merchandise will spoil, or they’ll lose a lot of money because they can’t work.” As an example, he mentions “informal shrimp and lobster sellers,” in addition to a home beverage business that sells its products online and promises them “always cold.”

The prices vary. Ibrahim sums it up: “For every watt I generate you pay me a dollar. But if it’s a powerful generator of more than 4,500 watts, I can provide it, and there are discounts that make the price cheaper. If, in addition, the client wants it to be home-delivered, that can be arranged.”

But it’s not all a matter of money when it comes to acquiring one of these devices that saves you from darkness and heat. “My brother has been insisting that I buy one for a long time, but I live on a street where everyone is a big gossip,” laments Juan Carlos, a resident of the city of Alquízar. “If, in the middle of a blackout, the only house that is illuminated is mine, people will start talking.”

Juan Carlos runs a modest business selling fresh cheese and yogurt. Most of his business is informal, and he’s afraid to keep his lights on when the neighbors can’t even see their hands. “The least  that can happen is envy, and the worst is the thieves, who might think I have a lot of money because I have a generator.”

The theft of these devices is becoming more frequent. “In the early hours of the morning they took the generator that we had secured behind a padlocked fence,” a resident of El Vedado, who managed to use her generator for only a few weeks, explains to this newspaper. “It was wonderful, although a little noisy,” she says. “We never filed a complaint with the police because we had bought it on the black market.”

Ibrahim doesn’t want to import a generator for his family. “My thing is to make money to get my wife and my two children out. If I have to spend that time fanning myself with a piece of cardboard, I’ll do it.” In advance, he already knows what devices  to bring to the island in the first days of September. The classified ad he has put in several places shows a large generator, with wheels  and accompanied by a phrase: “Sleep all night without worrying about blackouts.”

Translated by Regina Anavy


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