By Alfredo Prieto
They say that summers in Cuba are everything but mild. Prior to the beginning of this summer that is just ending, an announcement was made that electricity consumption was outpacing projections, which acted to ignite concerns about the return of residential blackouts. In the end, however, blackouts generally didn’t occur or were incidental.
A program was implemented that compelled the large sector state to re-adopt strict energy-saving measures that so as not affect the public in their homes. For all government office and state agencies, excess energy consumption was penalized not only with fines on the offenders, but even with closings. The use of air conditioning was especially prohibited during specific hours of the workday.
Many workplaces readjusted their schedules from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., and some appealed to workers who had accumulated vacation time to use it. Other companies in the industrial sector, such print shops, closed their doors until September.
Even the tourist industry saw its use of electricity reduced, which was expressed in innumerable nuisances for visitors.
The psychological effect
The problem is that these and other measures adopted, while capable of solving the problem of the blackouts in Cuban homes, will have an inevitable psychological and practical effect on people.
The principal effect is that they will contribute to greater inefficiency, unruliness and indifference: three of the weaknesses of an economy needing additional changes (we must remember that this is a country where the wage has lost its essential role and basic subsistence is subjected to multiple daily tensions).
In addition, the effect of the world crisis generates feelings of uncertainty: it reinforces the idea that the Cuban crisis is permanent and feeds the notion that emigration is the only path out.
This is dangerous when considering the current attitude regarding immigration in the United States. And it is to the US where past migratory crises have occurred for a combination of domestic problems and political positions specially designed for the island (the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act).
The movements of the dollarized economy – such as the disappearance of the system of Cuban Stores Serving Foreigners (Cuba al Servicio del Extranjero, or CUBALSE), substituted by the Stores for the Collection of Foreign Currencies (Tiendas de Recaudación de Divisas, or TRD) – generated shortages of products as basic as detergent and toilet paper. These gave rise to perceptions that did not exactly correspond to reality but that acted to stimulate hoarding and insecurity. Bureaucratization has its effects, and this is one of them.
Violence in interpersonal relationships has taken a sharper edge and is expressed in a thousand ways in the social fabric, beginning with the family circle, work relations and ending up on the bus ride home.
The island’s warm temperatures complicate this panorama even more: sweltering heat irritates and affects rationality. Public fiestas and dances have always been problematic from this point of view, as depicted in the introductory scene of the now classic film Memorias del subdesarrollo(Memories of Underdevelopment, 1968), as they usually end up in altercations and police involvement (alcohol always plays its part).
The result of this highly complex intrigue of structural problems and social representations is diverse, but it converges upon a sole point: the overwhelming tendency to do the least possible, down to the level of the personal sphere of each individual actor.
This spans from picaresque to the farcical as paths of practical and psychological escape as people attempt to weather the crisis while gripped by the sensation that life has no remedy; it is a fatalism inscribed in the stone of social conscience and acts as a heavy burden on any stage.