The Energy Crunch in Cuba is Just Beginning

Erasmo Calzadilla

Line to buy cooking gas in Havana. Photo- Cubanet

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.

Also read:  Energy in Latin America and the Caribbean, Four Years on a Downslide

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.
Articles consulted:

Erasmo Calzadilla

Erasmo Calzadilla: I find it difficult to introduce myself in public. I've tried many times but it doesn’t flow. I’m more less how I appear in my posts, add some unpresentable qualities and stir; that should do for a first approach. If you want to dig a little deeper, ask me for an appointment and wait for a reply.

16 thoughts on “The Energy Crunch in Cuba is Just Beginning

  • September 25, 2019 at 1:33 am

    Until Raul finally goes, don’t expect to see anything in Cuba to change in the least.

  • September 25, 2019 at 1:31 am

    At least not until San Raul is finally gone!

  • September 25, 2019 at 1:29 am

    Bienvenidos al “Segundo Periodo Especial en Tiempo de Paz” !

  • September 24, 2019 at 1:08 am

    Well Terry its easy to list just a few of the negatives. No freedom of movement, no freedom of speech, no freedom of the media, no political choice, constant indoctrination, imposed rates of poverty – and those are just a few in the glass which is almost empty. But, why don’t you list those positives that you envisage in your more than half-full glass? Is it difficult to think of any? The chances of the world living as one in a communist morass are zero! Proof? Just study Eastern European experience of the USSR!

  • September 23, 2019 at 11:26 pm

    It’s not bias it’s the reality Terry.
    It is what it is a 1 party dictatorship that doesn’t allow democracy.
    It’s against everything basically we believe in.
    It’s what makes Canada so great diversity, freedom to question to vote to start virtually any business, campaign there is so much that makes democracy so good.
    And you condemn them to tyranny? Very shallow indeed.

  • September 23, 2019 at 9:09 am

    Brad, by the same token, there will always be individuals like you and Carlyle who will merely see things as glass-half-empty in Cuba, blindly focusing only on the negatives due to their over-whelming bias. In the words of a very good friend of mine… ‘imagine all the people, living life in peace… you may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one, I hope some day you’ll join us, and the world will live as one.’ That man was indeed very wise. And for every one of you, there are thousands more who see the truth in those words of his.

    Diplomacy, mutual respect, and co-habitation go much further with effecting real change instead of interventionist policies that only alienate dialogue and countries, as well as any chance of furthering relationships without all the unnecessary bravado. Cuba will never bend when others are trying to politically break them. Would you? I think not. Still… ‘I hope some day you’ll join us, and the world will live as one.’ The only solution indeed… after all, the other has proven to be a failed policy time and time again.


  • September 23, 2019 at 1:39 am

    There will always be apologists for awful, unbending, incompetent dictatorships like in Cuba.
    The anti-west so-called anti-imperialist propaganda line is a old one.

    Cuba living off Venezuela was a dead end policy that was never going to work long-term.
    The only way prosperity will return to Cuba is through democracy which is not going to happen with the communists.

  • September 22, 2019 at 5:01 pm

    Carlyle, the positives are quite obvious to anyone who knows anything about Cuba… you don’t really feel you need me to tell you what you already know as well, do you? And besides, I have a strong sense that you’re only interested in provoking an argument. Although my name is Terry, my last name is not Gilliam. Carlyle, you can’t tell me that you’re not wanting to have an argument… of course you are! Now will that be the full argument, or were you thinking of taking the course?


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