“If water and electricity have the same owner, why do they turn off my power when I need it most?”
Cubanet.org, Gladys Linares, Havana, 28 April 2015 – The word “blackout” was eliminated by the Electric Company. Nevertheless, blackouts continue, managed, disguised, masked with terms like free channel, breakdown, maintenance, pole change, broken cables, etc., causing a thousand and one miseries among the population.
For Andres, a self-employed man who sells pizzas, spaghetti and smoothies in Lawton, the blackouts, he says, have turned into a nightmare. He says that recently he cannot sell a smoothie because the fruit pulp was spoiled in a blackout, and as his oven is electric, when the lights go out he cannot make pizzas, either.
Several times a week the same hell confronts those who are obligated to cook with electricity; without it there is no food. There are those who solve the problem with a cylinder of gas (almost always bought on the black market because few have the 500 pesos necessary for getting a contract for the unrationed gas canisters).
The Island stopped in time
The first electric plant was established in Cuba in 1889 (in Cardenas), only seven years after New York’s first electric plant was inaugurated. For the republic’s half century, few complained about blackouts. But after 1959, the Cuban electric system did not escape the disaster, and as in so many spheres of our calamitous economy, it was at the point of collapse.
In the Tribune of Havana newspaper of August 15, 2010, the program’s chief engineer, Pedro Felipe de las Casas, declared that he had carried out 75 percent of the necessary improvements in order to offer a high quality service to the capital’s clients, and among those works he mentioned were: rush changes, increased transformer capacity, improvements in street lighting – though not in the outlying neighborhoods – and to conclude he said, “So far 3,109 low voltage areas have been eliminated which stands out as one of the results most noticed by the people.”
In spite of the government’s triumphant propaganda about energy efficiency, frequent fluctuations in voltage continue which damage appliances, and in the neighborhoods we spend long hours without electricity.
The pruning of trees that damage lines that hang from poles is only carried out in a marathon manner in the face of an imminent cyclone. The branches are another of the frequent cause of electric service interruption or of accidents. On Friday, April 10 in the suburb of Abel Santamaria, a 12-year old boy climbed a tree to knock down mangoes and was electrocuted by a line that passed through the branches.
The lights go out when the water arrives
The blackout happens very frequently at the “water time,” that is to say, in those 4 or 5 hours in which on alternate days the vital liquid arrives at our houses. When this happens, you can hear the curses of the neighbors who had washing machines going (although many have to wash by hand). Worse occurs in the case of multi-family buildings or other multi-story houses: without electricity the motors don’t start, and without motors to run the pumps, the water does not get to them.
For these reasons, more than a few are outraged, and some wonder: if in 48 hours we only have water for 5 hours, maybe 6, generally 4 hours, if it is true that they turn off the electricity to make repairs, if the water and the electricity are from the same owner: Why do they have to take my power when I need it most? Is it that you cannot make the repair in the other 40 hours?
On one of these days that corresponded to the arrival of the water, an affected neighbor, who asked me not to mention her name, called 18888 and asked the operator how long was the blackout was going to be. She countered her: “In Cuba there are no blackouts.”
On another occasion another neighbor called to find out, and they told him that a pole at 16th and Conception (Lawton) had caught fire. To verify it, he went out for a spin on his bicycle in the area but did not manage to find the supposed incident.
Julia Cecilia Ramos, an old lady who receives a monthly pension of 240 pesos (less than US$10), was due her payment on March 26. She arrived at the CADECA closest to her house, and the store was closed for lack of electricity. She continued to the bank, and there found the same situation. The old woman told me that she decided to return to her house, “because the blackouts in Cuba, although they no longer exist, they last hours.”
About the author
Gladys Linares. Cienfuegos, 1942. School teacher. She worked as a geography teacher and a principal in different schools for 32 years. She joined the Human Rights Movement at the end of 1990 through the Women’s Humanitarian Front organization. She actively participated in the Cuban Council and the Varela Project. Her chronicles reflect the daily life of the people.
Translated by MLK