14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 19 August 2022 — María de los Ángeles spent the hours after the electrical service returned to her Los Sitios neighborhood in Centro Habana with her balcony doors open and the air conditioner turned on. Like many Cubans, the 64-year-old refuses to save energy in the short time that she enjoys the supply, as a way to get even for long blackouts.
Despite the fact that the official media are full of phrases that call for saving as much electricity as possible, the energy sector is experiencing the same situation as so many other state services in Cuba. People tend to lash out at official inefficiency by wasting water, gas, or kilowatts when they finally reach their home. As a quiet revenge, squandering is also a form of protest.
“In my house they turned off the electricity from ten in the morning to two in the afternoon and then again at night,” María de los Ángeles tells 14ymedio. “When I saw that the light bulbs came on, I didn’t turn off any of them, so I left them on all morning.” In the block where she lives, many others did the same. “I’m not the one who’s going to save electricity for these incapable people,” she stresses.
The predatory nature in the face of these services dates back to the time when the Cuban regime widely subsidized the supply of electricity, water and gas. Keeping the television on all day, never turning off certain lamps or leaving the stove burning permanently so as not to use up matches became very widespread practices. The official discourse even flirted with the idea that at some point in “the construction of socialism,” all of this would be guaranteed free of charge to the population.
But the other side of the subsidies has been the deterioration of the country’s infrastructure, which forces thousands of families to carry water from distant places, improvise an electrical supply through a ‘clothesline’ — wiring extended from somewhere else — or cook with firewood for lack of other fuels. The mixture of free services and deficiencies gave way to a very peculiar consumer: the predator of all kinds of public service.
“In my house we have electricity for six hours a day,” says Raudel, a young man from the city of Alquízar, in the province of Artemisa. “The time we have electricity, we have to do everything: turn on the water pump, cook, try to refrigerate the food so that it survives the next blackout, iron, wash, charge our mobiles and enjoy something on TV.”
Curiously, the last electricity bill that Raudel received, already in the midst of the energy crisis, was very similar to the one from a year ago, when he paid about 3,000 pesos a month for the service. “The bill isn’t lower because we can no longer stand it when the electricity comes on. I tell my children to do whatever they want. If they want to have the room air conditioner on all that time, let them do it. If they want to make a pizza in the electric oven, let them do that too.”
Raudel has a small lathe workshop, where he also does blacksmithing and metal welding. “I hadn’t worked much for years because the cost of electricity skyrocketed, but now I don’t limit myself. Sometimes I use the current all night,” he admits.
Last year, when the energy crisis had not yet reached its present serious situation, the official newspaper Granma recommended “freezing bottles of water at night and leaving them out during the day, so as not to have to open the refrigerator as often,” and also “put together as many pieces to iron or wash.” However, to the extent that blackouts have increased, the reaction of consumers seems to be going in the other direction.
“When I was a child I was part of the Click Patrols and I was obsessed with checking my house if there were any light bulbs turned on unnecessarily,” recalls a resident of the city of Sancti Spíritus. “But over time I began to wonder where all that energy I was saving was going to end up, if the service was becoming more expensive and of poorer quality.”
Julio, a neighbor from Santa Clara, thinks the same. “There is talk of saving, but is it worth saving? They will continue to turn off the electricity and live well themselves, without suffering the many needs that we people have. They, those of the Government, do not have blackouts.” Julio considers the wastefulness as a silent protest. It is the only thing that can be done “from home and without ‘pointing to us.’ A grain of sand against those who misgovern this country.”
“Seeing those photos of Havana completely dark,” says the man, “where the only thing that is lit up are the hotels, gives an idea of what is happening in Cuba.”
The times are not the same either. From the 1980s when Cubans had a few electrical appliances, it has passed to the current moment in which cooking food depends in many homes on rice cookers and electric pressure cookers, frying pans, fryers and ovens* all of which must be connected to an electrical outlet. The number of telecommunications devices has also skyrocketed.
“Three people live in my house, each one with a cell phone, we also have a tablet and a laptop,” lists the Sancti Spiritus woman. “When the electricity comes on after a blackout, you have to connect all that immediately to have it charged when the power goes out again. Also, two rechargeable lamps that we use to avoid being in the dark have to be charged.”
The Electric Union of Havana made a recent call to lower consumption in order to alleviate the blackouts in the city: “The rest of the customers of the other blocks would be greatly benefitted at this time if we save and it will reduce the time the customers of block 4 are affected,” wrote the state monopoly on its Facebook account, a text that provoked a barrage of insults from consumers. Most openly declared that they were not going to monitor a consumption they paid dearly for and that was not stable.
One commenter summed up her challenge: “I do iron with the air conditioning on and use the hair dryer for towels. I do what I want with the electricity I pay for.” The Internet user received dozens of messages of approval and sympathy from those who also use their light switches as revenge.
*Translator’s note: These single purpose appliances were pushed by the government over the years, as ways to save electricity compared to major appliances.
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