HAVANA TIMES — In May of 2004, the Antonio Guiteras thermoelectric plant suffered a breakdown which had a considerable impact on Cuba’s electrical generation network. This was the context – perhaps it was more of a pretext – in which Commander in Chief Fidel Castro launched the “initiative” known as the “Energy Revolution.”
The initiative was aimed at replacing old thermoelectric plants with new power generators and substituting old electrical appliances used in Cuban homes with new, energy-saving models.
What began as a response to a specific, critical problem became a sinister government strategy, implemented in full force in 2005 under the slogan of “Wellbeing and Quality of Life for the People.”
Brigades made up of social workers began working through the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs) to replace obsolete appliances with energy-saving devices in all provinces, municipalities and towns around the country.
This meant replacing old, Russian and domestic-made televisions with more modern sets. Fans improvised out of the motors extracted from Soviet washing machines and long-lived refrigerators made in the United States or countries from the former socialist bloc were also targeted.
At first, people received the campaign very well, as many were still using these ancient artifacts simply because they could not afford to pay the high prices of modern appliances sold in Cuba’s hard currency stores.
The electric stoves, rice cookers, multipurpose steam cookers, jars and water heaters made in China were promoted with a great song and dance by the government, to the point that the Comandante himself appeared on television to show the population how to use these appliances properly – and even shared some bean recipes on Cuba’s round table debate program.
All of this was just too good to be true, and soon after all the cons began to rear their ugly heads.
The first was the announcement that the liquefied gas made available to families (in parts of the city or other locations without gas piping, that is to say, in most of Cuba, save in a number of neighborhoods in Havana), would no longer be distributed on a monthly basis and would begin to be sold only twice a year.
The second would be the official notification that electricity bills would go up, made precisely after electrical appliances had been distributed to most of the population and the gas quota had been severely restricted. The third was informing the public that television, refrigerators, air conditioning units and fans would be made available to them on the condition that they handed their old appliances over to the State.
Last but not least, Cuban families began to contract debts with the bank in order to pay for the new appliances. In the case of more expensive units, they were practically obliged to take out credit, with very high interest rates.
The repercussions of the so-called Energy Revolution:
- Since Cuba is a Caribbean island that is frequently lashed by hurricanes and its electrical installations are out in the open, breakdowns are frequent and electrical power cuts occur many times during the year. The population, which does not have a steady and reliable supply of liquefied gas, is thus left without a means of cooking their food, which is a basic need.
- This has prompted a new government strategy which consists in selling liquefied gas at market prices. This is as horrendous a measure as those which put us in this situation to begin with, and we could well devote an entire article to it
- The population, constantly complaining about the high electricity bills, has no choice but to bite the bullet. To add insult to injury, the government has distributed a pamphlet titled “Home Energy Saving Guide”, which explains to people how to make use of their appliances efficiently.
- The appliances handed over to the State in order to receive new units were sold as scrap metal to other countries. The appliances received in exchange for this were far from cutting-edge technology. On the contrary, they are near-obsolete models, most of them with a relatively short life expectancy, which Cubans have been forced to repair again and again (when the spare pieces turn up, that is).
- Because of the debts incurred by those who purchased these units from the State, for the last 8 years nearly the entire population, in addition to living on measly salaries and pensions, must pay a sizeable chunk of their earnings to the government, month after month.
- To make matters even worse, the environment isn’t benefiting in the least, for there are those who are forced to cook outside, using firewood stoves (as they did back in Medieval times), as they no longer have a regular supply of liquefied gas and can’t afford to pay the high electricity bills.
So, what “energy revolution” are we talking about here?