In the Dark / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula

Residents of #2 Bernaza Street, between Obispo and O'Reilly, were victims of an accident caused by the Electric Company at the site of repairs
Residents of #2 Bernaza Street, between Obispo and O’Reilly, were victims of an accident caused by the Electric Company at the site of repairs

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Regina Coyula, Havana, 13 May 2016 — The municipality of Old Havana had its ancient underground water and electrical systems renovated last year. The streets were dug up to replace the pipes and wiring. Beyond the mess and the dust, these works have brought the residents two precious services, services without which it is unthinkable to live in a modern city. But the happiness has not been felt everywhere.

Residents of #2 Bernaza Street, between Obispo and O’Reilly, were victims of an accident caused by the Electric Company at the site of the repairs. An overload destroyed electrical appliances; a few stabilizers managed to protect a few. The jolt didn’t even spare many appliances protected by their owners’ surge protectors.

The building remained dark for several days and the residents organized to complain. The Electric Company blamed the Havana Water Company, which was able to prove its innocence, so the Electric Company was obliged to replace—“when there is availability”—the burned out appliances and to extend new wiring to the meters.

From the meters onward, that is to every apartment, is being litigated, so the majority of the residents, watching the days tick by without power, decided to resolve it themselves and to pay the Electric Company workers under the counter to connect their homes. With the wiring outside, almost all the residents have had makeshift electrical service for months now. But there are stubborn residents, or those who don’t have the 100 CUC (roughly $100 US) that it would cost to pay the electrical workers, and with faith in the power of justice, they have decided to take their case through institutional channels.

Those who have now lacked electricity for six months are finding the institutions unresponsive. The delegate to the People’s Power showed up on the day of the accident, but is surely engaged in the many other problems of her constituency. There was silence in response to letters to the Municipal and Provincial People’s Power. Silence in response to the section for complaint letters at the newspapers Juventud Rebel and Granma. Silence in response to a letter to the similar section at the Havana Channel. And silence in response to letters to the Electric Company. All this correspondence has been the victim of these residents’ “darkness syndrome,” and they haven’t received even an acknowledgement of receipt.

Only the Prosecutor took the time to rule that the residents are right and that the Electric Company is responsible, but this has not resulted in any change for those affected.

And in an event that is not without irony, the electric bills, which should show a “zero” for electrical usage, have arrived with an “approximate use” calculation, which after the accident caused by the Company last November is applied to the residents who have connected themselves to the electricity. Sparking new trips to the Basic Electricity Office in Old Havana to explain to them what they should obviously be very aware of.

One of the residents rests his hopes on managing to get an interview with the Minister of Basic Industry, which controls the Electric Company. His effort began through a friend who has a friend who is a friend of the minister, but after waiting three months for this improbable event, he went to the ministry in person and asked for an interview. He was assured that even though it is delayed, the minister deals with cases like his, so he feels optimistic that the blackout he is suffering will be resolved.

After learning about this event, we can make some inferences that go beyond who is responsible and what the deadlines for resolution are:

  • Most of the neighbors have no confidence in the institutions and decide to resolve the problem on their own
  • The pathetic complaint mechanisms available to citizens do not work
  • The capacity of some to resign themselves to such things is worthy of a study that could explain certain social behaviors, well beyond those related to a simple outage