Queen-Brand Pots, Chinese Refrigerators and the Little Gas Cylinder / Gladys Linares

Hornilla-casera-de-carbón_foto-cortesía-de-la-autora-300x200HAVANA, Cuba, January, www.cubanet.org — With the change of domestic appliances in the so-called energy revolution devised by Fidel Castro, there began for us a series of problems that each day gets worse.

We were warned to exchange old Russian refrigerators and air conditioners, or American ones from the pre-“revolutionary” era, for Chinese equipment supposedly of lower energy consumption, payable through a bank credit that people are paying off still today.

During that period they also sold, in certain locations, fans, water heaters, electric stoves, rice and multipurpose cookers (the so-called Queen brand pots), at the same time that electric rates were increased.  The gas sale cycle for these families was extended to six months for each 20 pound drum (the so-called “little balls”) “just in case some day the electricity flow is interrupted,” which happens quite frequently.

Due to their poor quality, these pieces of equipment quickly broke, and the shortage of replacement parts has obliged Cuban families to adopt different alternatives in order to be able to cook.  Some do it with charcoal; others buy a gas cylinder on the black market.

Such is the case of Erlinda, who has prepared a little charcoal stove although she complains that sometimes it is difficult to get one; with much difficulty it can be bought on the black market.  She says that now she knows the cause of its scarcity: according to what she read in the Granma newspaper of January 14, charcoal is an export item.

Refill hose for cylinders  -- photo courtesy of the author
Refill hose for cylinders — photo courtesy of the author

For some, the quota of gas is not sufficient, but they don’t have the money to buy a cylinder on the black market, so they try to get a “shot” (the residue) from a neighbor or friend, almost always emptying one drum to another with the appropriate hose, a dangerous operation that has caused more than one explosive accident costing lives and homes.

A while back, one afternoon, Raudel, a gas courier, tried to help a neighbor in this procedure, and although he did the maneuver in the doorway, someone who was passing at that moment lit a cigarette and everyone ended up in the burn room of the Calixto Garcia hospital.

When Raul Castro, in his speech on December 13, 2012, announced that he was increasing the production of petroleum and gas, a rumor began to circulate that its sale would be freed from the rationing system.  But what no one expected is that in order to consume gas by the pound he would have to enter into a contract with the State to rent, for 500 pesos, an empty cylinder, and only with this could he then get it filled for a price of 130 pesos.

During the eighth legislature of Parliament, the deputies Attention to Services Commission voiced the difficulties presented by the electric domestic appliances and recognized that more than 80% were in disuse.

Near Barrio Obrero, gas transport -- photo courtesy of the author
Near Barrio Obrero, gas transport — photo courtesy of the author

As a “solution” to this problem, the State widened access to the bank credits in CUC, applying the prevailing exchange rate (25 Cuban pesos for 1 Cuban Convertible Peso, or CUC) so that those affected might buy their appliances again and undertake more debt, although they also have the “option” of buying the unrationed gas through contract with the State.

On learning the news, a friend exclaimed:  “I don’t know why they are surprised, if this bloodsucking Government takes a step, or makes a change, or applies a measure, it’s only to suck our blood!”

Cubanet, January 29, 2014, Gladys Linares.

Translated by mlk.