Does Cuba Face the Specter of Renewed Blackouts?

By Guillermo Nova

Apagón en La Habana. Foto: Sputnik news
Blackout in Havana. File photo: Sputnik news

HAVANA TIMES – Just listening to the word blackout is traumatic for the Cuban population and to pronounce it a taboo for most leaders. The current political crisis in Venezuela and energy cuts in state companies have brought back the memory of Cuban blackouts lived in the 1990s, reported dpa news.

This week, Economy Minister Marino Murillo said that the country had difficulties with “the availability of energy carriers”. With that language that few understand,  he avoided saying power outages, but he did warn that the government would have to take energy saving measures.

“The provisions to address the current situation will prevent blackouts and affects on the population and basic services,” Murillo promised at a meeting of the economic committee of the National Assembly.

Murillo tried to reassure the population in the absence of information in the official media on the energy situation. He confirmed the comments of recent days from workers at state enterprises who had been warned of power cuts of 50% in their workplaces as an energy-saving measure.

“I can’t imagine, nor do I want to think about, a return of blackouts with this unbearable heat we have,” Maydelis told dpa. She declined to give her last name at the exit of a ministry headquarters on a downtown Havana street.

“From seven on there’s been no electricity in the house; the power company says that its for maintenance work on a pole,” claimed a senior citizen sitting on a bench on Paseo Ave. near the Melia Cohiba Hotel, operating normally thanks to its own power generation plant.

Despite the concerns of some Cubans, experts say that the island is far from living a new “Special Period”, the name given by Fidel Castro to the economic crisis of the 90s after the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

On that occasion, overnight, Cuba lost its main oil supplier and nationwide power outages began during most of the day.

“Gentlemen this situation of reduced fuel, energy reduction, [is unbearable]. This country cannot stand another ’93, ’94, if you don’t want to see street protests,” said journalist Karina Marron, assistant director of Granma the official Communist Party newspaper.

Marron was referring to protests in August 1994 on the Malecon, the traditional seawall promenade of Havana, which were quelled after the personal intervention of then Cuban President Fidel Castro.

“Today, there is no Fidel to go to the Malecon, or at least so far there has not been a figure in this country able to explain the very difficult situation we face,” Marron said during a meeting of the National Committee of the Cuban Journalists Association attended by Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel.

Sunset with a blackout. Foto: Caridad
Sunset with a blackout. File Photo: Caridad

The current socioeconomic situation in Cuba is more favorable than that of the 1990s, the Cuban economy has diversified markets and has foreign exchange earnings in sectors such as tourism.

But restrictions occur in a climate of great expectations created among the population about the possible economic improvements resulting from the rapprochement with the United States.

The economic reforms undertaken by Cuban President Raul Castro have meant a 30% increase in energy consumption over the past five years due to the increase in small businesses such as restaurants and bars, and the growth of household consumption by purchasing new appliances.

Although details of the agreements with Venezuela are not public information, it is estimated that Cuba receives 90,000 barrels daily from Venezuela under highly preferential terms paid for in exchange for Cuban doctors and educators providing services in the South American country.

When Murillo noted that Cuba is adversely affected by the drop in the international price of oil he was acknowledging, without saying so, that part of the Venezuelan fuel is resold by Havana to third countries to earn foreign exchange. Therefore Cuba, as in the time of the Soviet Union, is an oil exporter but not that produced in the country.

The political crisis facing Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has created uncertainty in Havana for a possible scenario without its Chavista ally that could mean the closure of the oil tap under favorable conditions.

“The value of this contract at current oil prices is approximately US $1.3 billion. If Cuba loses this agreement it would have to buy crude oil on international markets,”  Jorge Pinon, a professor at the University of Texas told dpa.

The island is totally dependent on energy from fossil fuels; currently only four percent of its production originates from renewable energy, says Pinon, who is also an expert in energy studies in the Caribbean.

Meanwhile, Cuban authorities seek to achieve that 24 percent of the country’s energy is generated from renewable sources by 2030. However experts note that it will need new infrastructure and massive foreign investment for this to take place.

9 thoughts on “Does Cuba Face the Specter of Renewed Blackouts?

  • July 13, 2017 at 11:20 am

    I cannot speak of the Cuban government focusing on anything other than the retention of power. No doubt China would be prepared to even further extend credit to enable solar power electrification.

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