HAVANA TIMES – I’ve just landed in Cuba, amidst a serious fuel crisis. Havana is in chaos, buses are nowhere to be seen or jam packed, gas stations have lines coming out of them like never before, just like the never-ending lines of people you see waiting to catch a private collective taxi (which have doubled their rates unanimously overnight)… It’s a fight you win by pushing and shoving. However, there are also gestures of kindness and anonymous solidarity, it’s not a complete jungle yet.
On September 12th, Diaz-Canel took on the job of publicly “explaining” the reasons for this situation. I am writing this article to expose some of the doubts and questions I had when I listened to his speech.
What mysterious company failed to meet its commitments because of the US embargo?
“They are trying to stop fuel from reaching Cuba, they are blackmailing companies and tankers that do business with our country, the application of the Helms-Burton Act intimidates and pressures them, and this situation has led to a low availability of fuel for production and services in recent days….”
Last March, amidst a power crisis that had Venezuela without electricity for several days, the (opposition-led) National Assembly voted to suspend crude oil supplies to Havana (some 47,000 barrels per day at the time). Now, the US has made sure to implement this measure by placing pressure on companies that transport the fossil fuel to the island.
The strange thing, though, is that when a company has caved to the pressure of the US embargo in the past, the Cuban government hasn’t thought twice to transform this matter into theatrics, exposing the news publicly wherever it can. But this time… mysterious silence and the government’s sweeping and abstract language gives rise to justified suspicions. Without any concrete facts, it’s impossible to verify the official story, and gaps in this story as well as going around in circles, makes us think that a tangled web is being spun around us.
The US embargo on oil coming from Venezuela (not from other regions though) is real. However, isn’t the Cuban government using the blockade to hide other problems from us, as we are accustomed, such as their failure to make payments or problems in the supplier country?
Are national reserves running out with the delay of just one tanker?
Every country has its own reserve of crude oil which is precisely meant to cover unforeseen setbacks in supplies. Because without fuel, everything comes to a standstill; that’s how toxic our dependency is.
Jorge Pinon, the director of the Latin American and Caribbean Energy Program, estimates that Cuba holds oil reserves [at least in containers] for approximately 45 days. Let’s do the math then. Tankers supplying the country don’t normally carry more than 600,000 barrels. If we assume that the island imports some 50,000 barrels per day, every tanker is transporting a supply that lasts 12 days, at most.
Diaz-Canel has told us that the crisis is due to just one oil tanker failing to make it to the island, that’s what I understood at least. So, my next question is: how can one tanker not fulfilling its delivery commitment turn an entire country upside-down? Where are the reserves that should still be enough to cover (45-12 = 33) one more month? If everything was and is fine except for this temporary setback, why did they extend the time needed to replace cooking gas containers for domestic use a few days ago?
A source with access to sensitive information confirmed what was already obvious: we’ve been eating away at the reserve for months now. But the government decided to hide the problem right up until the last moment, and when it did finally recognize the problem, it lied about how serious it is.
The country’s leadership wants everything to look fine and dandy so that investors don’t get scared off and to prevent public unrest from breaking out, so they put off the announcement of a crisis until the day after the bomb exploded. But a government that manipulates information like this is clearly not trustworthy, and everybody knows it. This is why many people have stopped believing them; no matter how much they bury themselves in the “temporary” nature of this storm, word on the street is that this is just the beginning, that the worst of it is still to come.
Clucking about the situation being temporary
Diaz-Canel stressed the temporary nature of the crisis in his TV/radio appearance on September 12th, and all of his channels of propaganda have been repeating this ever since. They are repeating this over and over again that it seems like comedy to me. Transport to workplaces and markets has been decimated but the minister of Economy is still saying that this won’t affect economic growth forecasts for this year because the energy deficit will soon be resolved.
A nice fairy tale, the only problem is that oil (which we depend on to the point of absurdity) is already lapsing; and exhausted reserves are really hitting Latin America’s large and medium exporters of this black gold. Especially Venezuela, who used to supply us before, and Mexico, where I’m told Cuba’s last deliveries came from. This conflict that seemed to be just political and economic up until now, stems from a geological reality; which means to say that the problem won’t be solved when we manage to evade the blockade and things will get worse in the medium-term.
Diaz Canel and his ministers want us to be calm and hopeful, so they have dedicated more than half an hour of their extremely valuable time to vehemently reject the coming of another Special Period. But oil supplies will be seriously compromised in our region and the entire world, in the early years of the next decade, which is right around the corner. Yes, another “Special Period” crisis is coming and the best thing we can do is prepare ourselves as soon as possible. However, the government continues to give us false signs, inviting us to underestimate the destructive force of the tornado that is about to hit us.
- Presidente Díaz-Canel announces temporary measures in the face of Cuba’s energy crisis http://www.cubadebate.cu/noticias/2019/09/11/presidente-diaz-canel-informa-nuevas-medidas-ante-situacion-energetica-de-cuba/
- Fuel crisis on the horizon in Cuba https://www.infobae.com/america/america-latina/2019/04/11/se-avecina-la-crisis-petrolera-en-cuba/
- Venezuela sends 1 million barrels of crude oil to Cuba after US sanctions https://www.radiotelevisionmarti.com/a/pdvsa-envia-1-mill%C3%B3n-de-barriles-de-crudo-a-cuba-tras-sanciones-de-eeuu/236388.html
- The US contemplates imposing sanctions on companies that facilitate oil shipments from Venezuela to Cuba https://www.elnuevoherald.com/noticias/mundo/america-latina/cuba-es/article227593149.html
- They aren’t messing about: Guaidó looks for a way to suspend oil shipments to Cuba https://www.elnuevoherald.com/noticias/mundo/america-latina/venezuela-es/article227412809.html
- Cuba cuts back on certain services because of fuel shortages https://www.elnuevodia.com/corresponsalias/cuba/nota/cubaracionaradiversosserviciosporcombustible-2517398/