Saturday, May 28, 2016

Cuba - The Return of the Power Cuts

Cuba: The Return of the Power Cuts / Ivan Garcia

Ivan Garcia, 27 May 2016 — As of three weeks ago there have been power
cuts of up to three hours in different parts of Havana. Sometimes longer.

"Friday, April 29 in Altahabana (a neighbourhood in the southeast of the
city), the power was cut off from eleven at night until four-thirty in
the morning. Because of the heat, I spent the whole night waving a fan
over my eight-month-old baby. Two days earlier, there was a three-hour
outage in the afternoon," I was told by Magda, who works at Comercio

In the central and eastern provinces, the power cuts started in the
middle of March. According to Reinaldo, who lives in San Pedrito in
Santiago de Cuba, 550 miles east of Havana, the blackouts aren't the
only problem.

"In some parts of Santiago we get water every eight or nine days. People
store it in buckets, bowls and improvised tanks, which increases the
chance of mosquitos transmitting dengue, zika and chikungunya. You can
add to that the countless earthquakes you get in the months of December
through March. Many families sleep in the parks because they are afraid
their roofs will collapse. The power cuts in Santiago are frequent.
Sometimes half an hour, and other times up to five hours," Reinaldo told me.

In Remedios, a town in Villa Clara province, 180 miles from the capital,
Odaisi, an intensive care assistant, tells me that the cuts have become
worse since the end of April.

"There are two or three a week, and sometimes up to five hours, or all
night. People go out in the street because of the dreadful heat. Lots of
people phone the electric company but they get no reply," Odaisis said.

Esther, who works in a substation on the outskirts of Havana, is sure it
isn't because of a fuel shortage, which is what many people think.
"Fifty percent of the electricity generated in the country uses Cuban
diesel. And there are new plants which run on gas. The problem is
unexpected breaks in the cables, which, together with maintenance to the
power stations in Matanzas and Holguín, have created power shortages in
peak hours."

A power company official, who preferred to remain anonymous, didn't
think that the present cuts will get as bad as the ones in the years of
the Special Period [a time of severe crisis after the collapse of the
Soviet Union and the elimination of its aid to Cuba].

"No way. The country is much better prepared to deal with electricity
supply. Thousands of kilometres of cable have been replaced,
transformers and connections have been renewed, and power distribution
losses, which got to thirty percent, have fallen to five percent. There
is also more modern equipment in the power plants, and we have a
contract with Russia to build two new power stations and modernise four
others. Our present problem is due to breakages, but we will sort them
out in the month of May," the official assured me.

But Noel, who works at CUPET, the initials of the Cuba Petrol Company,
is doubtful. "Out of the 105 thousand barrels a day we were receiving
from Venezuela two years ago, now we only get sixty thousand, and my
bosses tell me that they expect it to reduce further down to forty
thousand or fewer barrels. In Venezuela, because of the drought, and the
bad technical state of their power stations, there are constant power
cuts outside of Caracas. To that you can add the economic crisis and the
fact that oil exports represent ninety-five percent of their income."

Although a barrel of oil has fallen from over a hundred dollars a barrel
a few years ago to a little under thirty dollars on the international
market, Orelvis, an economist, believes that the Cuban government
doesn't have enough money to buy fuel.

"Bartering with Venezuela is the perfect business deal. Medical services
in exchange for oil, and part of the oil gets re-exported. Now
electricity generation in the country has increased. More hotels and
private businesses consuming more, and some of the people with money to
buy things have air conditioning and electrical appliances in their
houses. I think there has been a setback in electricity production, but
I don't think that the situation can be as serious as in the 90's, and
the Special Period, but people need to be ready for programmed blackouts
in the coming months," he thought.

Raisa, a technician in the electric company sees the problem
differently. "Every province and town in the country has an assigned
level of fuel consumption, and, for various reasons, most of them are
consuming more. That, plus the recent breakdowns, are the cause of the
latest outages."

But it's difficult to convince the Cuban in the street with technical
arguments. There is nothing they like less than a power cut.

"It's one damn thing after another. A screw-up getting any food.
Salaries which are too low, not enough public transport, and now they
are telling us that if the drought continues, the water supply will be
cut in Havana. And, the cherry on the cake, more power cuts. It's too
much. We have had these problems for nearly sixty years, and they have
never come up with a definitive solution," complains Adelberto, a pensioner.

The electricity cuts in Cuba are cyclical. For one reason or another,
they always recur. It's one of the pernicious legacies of Fidel Castro's

Translated by GH

Source: Cuba: The Return of the Power Cuts / Ivan Garcia – Translating
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