Fear of Blackouts Triggers Interest in Electric Generators in Cuba

In the centrally located shopping center Plaza de Carlos III, this type of device has just landed in one of the stores that only accepts payment in foreign currency. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 25 August 2021 — Electric generators have become the latest object of desire for Cubans. Private businesses, tourist rental houses and domestic spaces increasingly need these devices in the midst of constant blackouts.

“With the neighbors on the ground floor we bought a generator, small but that helps us, if the power goes out, we can keep the entrance hall lit, turn on a couple of fans and the occasional light bulb inside the house but, without exaggerating, is is not enough” 14ymedio hears from Verónica Echavarría, a resident of a two-story building in the Havana neighborhood of La Víbora.

The equipment, purchased on the black market, cost more than $600, which the emigrant children of both families helped to pay for. “When we bought the generator there were only private offers from people who travel and bring them, but they have told me that they are already putting them on the shelves in the stores, although I think the prices are very high,” says Echavarría.

In the centrally located Plaza de Carlos III, this type of device has just landed in one of the stores that only accepts payment in foreign currency. On Tuesday, some customers asked about the power of two coveted Westinghouse appliances, a brand that Cubans remember from the refrigerators of the first half of the last century, which continue to operate in many homes.

The models are the iGen4500 [4,500 maximum watts] for the value of $ 2,355 and the iGen4200 that costs $1,565, figures well above what is paid for similar devices in other countries in the region, such as Panama, the Dominican Republic or Mexico; a price that scared off potential buyers.

Portable, running on gasoline, on wheels and quite quiet, these Westinghouse models could be the perfect solution to face power outages in Cuba, especially during the summer months, when the heat forces people to use their fans more frequently. But the price is an insurmountable obstacle, a detail that has not escaped the sellers of the informal market.

“I offer a simpler and more compact range, which allows you to turn on only the basics in a house: some lamps, a fan and to charge mobile phones, but which does not provide for air conditioners or refrigerators,” Ismael, a 34-year-old merchant, tells this newspaper. For years, Ismael has specialized in the import of these devices. “There are several of us who travel frequently to Mexico and we bring them,” he explains.

“Although they are more modest equipment, they are easier to sell, because few people have the money for something more powerful. Private business owners are the most frequent customers, but right now they have little interest because most are closed or only offering services from home,” adds Ismael. “People are looking for something small, that makes little noise but that prevents them from spending the whole night sweating because there is no current.”

“They are very expensive, but I would give what I don’t have for one of these,” says a customer in Plaza Carlos III who lives in San Antonio de los Baños, where the July 11 protests began. “If there is something in my life that makes me indignant and annoys me, it is being without electricity in the house.”

One of the main triggers of the July 11th demonstrations in the town were the very long power cuts that occurred in recent weeks. After that protest, the situation has hardly improved. “The matter is not easy,” laments the frustrated buyer, who is curious about the arrival of a brand of American origin on the island “despite the embargo.”

The Westinghouse iGen4200 is sold on Cuban classifieds sites for just over $ 1,000, half a thousand less than in state stores, but “it is complicated equipment and it is better to have the import or official purchase papers very clear.” , recognizes the owner of a food service in Miramar that recently acquired two of these devices to be able to guarantee the preservation of food and the work of the kitchen during the blackouts.

“I can’t afford to be buying anything under the table because if they make a record of me and I don’t have the papers, I lose everything: the generator and even the business,” he warns. “So in the end I bought it through the official path to avoid any headaches in the future,” hoping that in a short time “prices will fall or new offers of solar panels that have a lower cost will enter the market.”

“But in the meantime, I prefer to have the backup that this is, and that serves me for my work and for my family. They are strong devices and if they are taken care of they can last many years.”

Recently, the Cuban authorities relaxed customs regulations for the importation of solar panels and other devices that generate energy from sources parallel to hydrocarbons. But, the presence of these devices on the black market is still minimal and some solar heaters for the self-employed have barely arrived in official stores.

At the moment, fuel generators are accompanied by “new problems,” he acknowledges. “They cannot be kept inside the house because of the smell they emit, and although they say they are silent, the noise they make is annoying.” Putting them outside is risking them “being taken away, so I had to create a mechanism that looks like the Alcatraz jail so they don’t steal them.”

The cost of the two devices, plus the enclosure to care for them, amounts to more than $5,000. “If you add to that what I spend on fuel each month, in order to recoup this investment, I’m going to have to spend years selling pizzas and food combos. If I don’t figure it out, I’ll have to get rid of them later.”

Ernesto, 29, a resident of Cienfuegos, also aspires to have a generator to be able to support his business linked to cryptocurrencies. “I am going to have to buy a device, because having electricity is essential for my business.”

Skillful with technologies and internet searches, Ernesto has not escaped that these same models can be bought for half or three-quarters of their price in other Latin American countries or in the United States.

“Why do they cost so much here?” he wonders indignantly, although he has no choice but to pay what they ask in stores foreign currency stores or on the black market. An electric generator is not a luxury on the Island of Blackouts.


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