Power Back in Cuba after Major Blackout

By Issac Risco

HAVANA TIMES (dpa) — A massive power outage hit parts of Cuba overnight Sunday to Monday, plunging about 6 million people – more than half of the Caribbean island’s inhabitants – into darkness for several hours.

The blackout hit eight provinces, including the capital, Havana, with its 2.2 million residents, around 0000 GMT. It took approximately four hours before power gradually returned.

A fault in a high voltage transmission line that runs across the island’s centre was apparently to blame, Cuban state media reported Monday, after several hours of official silence on the incident. A probe has been launched into the cause.

While communist Cuba’s aging infrastructure causes frequent short-term blackouts, the country had not experienced such a far-reaching power failure for many years.

According to a brief statement issued by Cuba’s Electric Union, the power outage went from the province of Pinar del Rio, in the extreme west, to Camaguey, on the island’s centre – equivalent to about three-quarters of the country’s surface area.

The blackout was pervasive in western areas. Only major hotels, some public buildings and foreign missions continued to have electricity thanks to their generators. Locals seeking to escape the heat of their houses poured onto Havana’s seaside boardwalk, the Malecon.

“The striking thing about this (blackout) is not how long it lasted, but its extent,” Cuban opposition blogger Yoani Sanchez wrote on Twitter.

“We’re going back home, the heat was affecting us,” pro-government blogger Yohandry Fontana said in the same social network after power was restored in Havana.

Following the so-called “energy revolution” that former Cuban president Fidel Castro launched in 2004, Cuba purchased many industrial generators to try and alleviate its thermo-electric deficiencies. However, such measures have not been enough to solve the problem.


8 thoughts on “Power Back in Cuba after Major Blackout

  • Wait, is his name Issac or Isaac?

  • ‘Moses’ characterizes what ”Michael’ wrote as “disingenuous”, customarily defined as “not straightforward or candid; giving a false appearance of frankness”. A rather ironic charge coming from this source based on what he writes.

    ‘Moses’ description of Vermont’s emergency facilities for power outages – “everyone has power generators and flashlights with Eveready batteries and emergency supplies in the basement” – sounds remarkably similar to that of third world countries, at least ones I’ve visited, like the Dominican Republic.

    Six people died in Vermont in Hurricane Irene a year ago. There are only 600,000 people living in the state. By Cuban standards, whose emergency preparedness for its 11 million people, no matter what their colour – excelling that of most countries in the world, especially the US – this would be a catastrophic death toll. Yet ‘Moses’ writes that ” Cubans typically are not nearly so well prepared” as Vermont.

    ‘Moses’ uses as an example of “the precarious nature” of the Cuban power grid, the emergency procedure of shutting down power before a hurricane strikes that Cuba uses. It, of course, is designed to prevent fires from downed power lines, a quite sensible procedure no matter what the state a power grid is in.

    The procedure no doubt contributes to the remarkably low casualty statistics that occur during hurricanes in Cuba, along with superb evacuation plans for all its citizens. For a graphic, tragic comparison, at least 1,400 Americans, mostly Africa-American, died in New Orleans alone during Hurricane Katrina. The exact number will never be known.

    Isaac wrote that during the blackout, “major hotels, some public buildings and foreign missions continued to have electricity thanks to their generators.” ‘Moses’ chooses to mention only “tourist destinations” that have power. Tourists in ALL countries enjoy perks that locals don’t have, especially emergency power.

    Presumably ‘Moses’ is trying to cash in on local resentments, again common in all countries where tourists are treated royally. Instead of fanning these resentments, it would be preferable to point out that tourists, in common with prized livestock, are well looked after in order to obtain what they have to offer – money in the first instance and meat in the second.

    I think it is safe to write, when it comes to ‘disingenuous’ behavior, ‘Moses’ is still king.

  • ‘Griffin’ writes that “Private corporations were indeed blamed” for a 2003 blackout in the US, while Isaac did not blame the “Energy Revolution” for the blackout but he “did point out that the ER did not prevent it.”

    Correct. But note the very significant difference that ‘Griffin’ misses. In Cuba, Cubans expect their government to prevent problems like blackouts while Americans do not. Private companies, focused on bottom line profits, typically set a “low standard of preventive maintenance” as ‘Griffin’ notes happened in the 2003 incident.

    Then, Americans “blame” their “private corporations”. The “blame” usually translates out to litigation and charges that put mountains of money in lawyer’s pockets as well as the pockets of others in the US legal profession. None of this, of course, benefits the people who had to endure the blackout.

    The litigation rarely leads to reducing the risk of problems reoccurring as companies typically pay the fines and raise fees to their customers to cover it – a very common scenario in capitalist systems.

    And when government organizations are to blame, they are many times shockingly not even held to account, tragically illustrated by Hurricane Katrina where more than 1,800 Americans died, mostly African-American, traditionally not as important as others in American culture. The US Army Corps of Engineers was faulted, but not blamed.

    We have here a very good illustration of the difference between capitalism and the system in Cuba that the US government is relentlessly working to bring down, obviously because they are concerned that their citizens will see the advantages they don’t have and will catch the “Cuban flu”.

    ‘Griffin’, embedded in a capitalist system, is probably blind to its basic faults. It’s understandable. Capitalist propaganda has been most effective in propagandizing its own people that their system is best, despite the evidence.

    Cubans, I find, like Isaac, writing on a website that allows criticism of government, tend not to be aware of the very significant advantages their system offers them.

  • To compare the frequent power outages that you experienced in Vermont to what takes place in Cuba is disingenuous. In Vermont, nearly everyone has power generators and flashlights with Eveready batteries and emergency supplies in the basement and so on. Cubans typically are not nearly so well prepared. I happened to have scheduled one of my visits to Cuba two days before Hurricane Gustav in 2008 and I left one week after Hurricane Ike a month or so later. During that visit I learned several interesting facts about Cuba’s disaster preparedness and electrical blackouts. In Havana, power was shut down BEFORE the hurricane struck as a preventative measure to avoid the risks of felled power lines. Cuba is well aware of the precarious nature of their power grid and with little resources to maintain, let alone upgrade. Of course, tourist destinations have power generators so tourists have little to fear. My casa particular was without power during both hurricanes for at least 5 days. In the absence of electricity, the public address system fails except due to the TVs still working in the hotels. Access to hotel comforts was still limited to tourists only but Cuban staff got important information out of the hotel and into the world’s best “word of mouth” networks.

  • In fact, the Northeast blackout of 2003 was blamed on a private electrical generation company in Ohio based First Energy for their low standard of preventive maintenance. This neglect caused the fault, which was then compounded by a software bug in the General Electric energy control systems used by many utilities. Private corporations were indeed blamed.

    Isaac did not blame the Energy Revolution for the blackout, but he did point out that the ER did not prevent it. He does have a good point. The resources that were put into buying hundreds of small scale local generators, a highly inefficient way to produce electricity, could have been better spent on upgrading and improving the reliability of the existing system.

  • During my last visit (Sept.&Oct.2010) a minor, level 1, hurricane came through Habana. Although there were some flooded streets and blown-down trees, the power in my neighborhood (San Augustin) was out for only a couple of hours. In the meantime, where I live, in rural Vermont, it seems to go off every time the wind blows, or when it snows, or when the branches ice up and come down in the winter; power is out anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of day (once for the better part of a week). In California and the S.W. major power outages seem to be happening more often, as too many folks turn on their AC’s to shut out the 104 deg. F. temps., the result of global warming, and this taxes the power generating capacities.

  • Warning, slanted journalism on display above! Isaac (Hurricane Isaac?) writes, “While communist Cuba’s aging infrastructure causes frequent short-term blackouts…”

    I’ve been through a couple of huge blackouts in Canada, days in length, but no one blamed it on ‘capitalist Canada’ although they were directly due to the failure of the capitalist system to protect its grid. Companies were too concerned with profits to care.

    Isaac also blames the power outage on Cuba’s failed “energy revolution”. I’m surprised he didn’t try to blame the heat wave on Fidel as well.

    Isaac even manages to get in a sound bite involving “Cuban opposition blogger Yoani Sanchez”, writing, ““The striking thing about this (blackout) is not how long it lasted, but its extent”. I suspect 11 million other Cubans could have made this intuitively obvious statement but Isaac chooses to bring good ol’ Yoani to our attention.

    Why? In order to have American media-ready copy quoting their favourite Cuban dissident? (Note: we really do get quite tired reading her here – time to find someone else, if possible). Americans of course love to blame every problem on the Cuban government, hoping to foment regime change. But what is Hurricane Isaac doing? He’s just become a tropical depression, unfortunately.

  • “Locals seeking to escape the heat…poured onto Havana’s seaside boardwalk, the Malecon.” Is this something new since my last visit? If Varadero is like Miami Beach (well, sort of) is Havana becoming Atlantic City?!

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