With the Blackouts, the ‘Temporary Situation’ Becomes Permanent

Lines to buy fuel in Havana have been a constant at this time. (Alejandro Yanes)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 16 September 2020 — This Wednesday, September 16, the scheduled blackouts begin in Havana to reduce energy consumption and, according to the official press, stop “a tendency to overuse that the country cannot afford.”

This completes prophecy made by the Government a year ago when Miguel Díaz-Canel announced, on September 11, 2019, that the Island had entered a fuel crisis, which he described at the time as a “temporary situation.”

According to the notice published by the Electric Company of Havana, the “interruptions to the electrical service,” this Wednesday from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm in the municipalities of Plaza, Playa and Boyeros, are due to “scheduled maintenance actions.” A few weeks ago, the authorities had already denied that the blackouts that occurred in August were due to a lack of fuel.

However, on September 3, Deputy Prime Minister Ramiro Valdés Menéndez called for a reduction in the costs of providing electricity and asked the municipal energy councils to identify the high consumers in residences and state services.

This Monday, the authorities insisted on this message, reporting a new accounting so far in September, when 4% more was consumed than expected. The only provinces complying with the plan are Las Tunas, Holguín and Granma, lamented the National Energy Council. Although the agency admits that households have reduced consumption, as recommended at the time, “the response from state agencies and their agencies still does not offer the results that are urgently needed,” said a note published in the official press.

Despite the insistent declarations of the authorities denying the link between blackouts and fuel shortages, the situation, far from improving, worsens and in the last month, several areas of the capital have been without electricity in periods that sometimes extend to eight o’clock hours.

The Government continues to place its hopes on its old energy partner, Venezuela, from which at least 49% of the fuel with which the island generates electricity comes (the remaining 51% is produced with oil extracted in Cuba). According to the Venezuelan ambassador to the United States, Carlos Vecchio, in the first half of 2020 the Maduro regime sent 33 tankers to Cuba, loaded with just over 13 million barrels of oil.

But the South American country, which for years has supplied oil to Cuba in exchange for doctors, has seen its possibilities greatly diminished with the increase in sanctions from the White House and now receives fuel in a non-regulatory way from Iran, also affected by the Washington measures. According to experts, part of the cargo from these ships reaches Havana.

At the beginning of the crisis, Díaz-Canel maintained a warlike language about the “temporary situation,” how could it be otherwise, charging the United States with the responsibility. “This is our Bay of Pigs… we have already overcome the first moment of the temporary situation… the country has not come to a standstill,” Díaz-Canel said in his government meetings, while on the street people mobbed gas stations and transport stops.

The authorities were then even forced to stop transport in the capital and demand — by way of an army of inspectors — that state vehicles pick up passengers. The situation also caused many of the private carriers to raise prices on their routes.

The arrival of the pandemic has left the situation in the air. It is impossible to know what the evolution of the energy situation in the country would have been if the coronavirus had not forced the stop of almost all transport on the Island to prevent mobility and stopped many non-essential activities that are large consumers of energy.

But even with these savings, Cuba has problems to maintain supply and the strong impact that covid-19 is expected to cause on the economy threatens to perpetuate an already long “temporary situation,” which looks a little more like the detested Special Period of the 90s every day.


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