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Lights Out: Cuba’s Power Problem

The white glowing globe of the full moon hangs between old concrete buildings with rusted metal bars over open windows.  The peeling chipped off paint, in bright, but fading, yellows and blues somehow looks beautiful under the moon.  The streets are almost completely black tonite.  The moon is the only real light we have, except for the glowing screen of our cell phones.  My friend who’s walking me home reaches for my hand to comfort me, and we stroll through town hand in hand, at peace.  I am grateful he came to walk me home from the historic center tonite as the darkness is intense with yet another power outage.  The pueblo quickly becomes dark and almost silent very quickly on these nights.  The music venues stay closed, and absolutely nothing is going on when the power is out.  People leave their homes to walk the streets with nothing much else to do.  The only lights we see are the occasional flickers of a candle, or cell phone screens.  The rest of the world around us is pitch black.

Every day the electric has been going out.  It seems to be at random times, sometimes first thing in the morning, and some times, like tonight, from 8pm till 1am or so: prime party time.  There seems to be little to no consideration of the impact on the community, or businesses, like restaurants and bars that would like to service the few tourists who are in town and provide something for them to do with their night.  It’s hard to understand the lack of rational thought on their processes here.   It would seem to be smarter to do these during the day time hours so that some kind of tourist economy can hobble itself towards possibility at night, and so students can complete their homework.   More so, most Cuban households use fans at night to keep mosquitos and heat under control to sleep.  Turning the power off at this time makes it very hard to sleep, as people are swimming in their own sweat in their beds with the oppressive heat.  Many also say it is causing dengue to become more of an issue with nighttime mosquito bites.  The fans are highly effective at keeping the mosquitos off.

Yesterday there were protests in Camagüey and Holguin at the universities.  College students and professors took to the streets with citizens to complain about these daily blackouts, which are happening nationwide.  The one exception, reportedly, is Havana, because it is the capitol.  Reports of more protests will come from Pinar Del Rio and other provinces.  After new considerations post protests, there was a shift and it seemed to become more routine to see the power out between 7 am and 2 pm.

The energy crisis of the world is striking here just as it is everywhere in the world it seems.  Yet here it is compounded by the aging infrastructure of the electrical systems in Cuba.   Nationwide, Cuba’s power plant systems are very outdated and need a total revamp.   Finding replacement parts is nearly impossible for these older systems and there are very serious concerns that the entire system is on the brink of failure.

“Cuba has for over two decades relied on Venezuelan fuel oil for its largest power plants, and diesel for feeding a myriad of smaller, distributed generation plants.  Venezuela is itself struggling to keep up with domestic demand, which is returning to pre-pandemic levels, slowing the flow of much-needed oil to Cuba.

Cuban officials have blamed fuel shortages, deferred maintenance and difficulties processing heavy sour Cuban crude, also burned at its plants, for hobbling generation. Those issues, officials say, have been exacerbated by the U.S. Cold War-era embargo on Cuba, which complicates financing and purchase of parts, fuel and capital investment.

Jorge Pinon, an energy analyst from the University of Texas at Austin, said Cuba’s response to the current crisis was more of the same – but that the stakes are getting higher as fuel shortages and aging equipment take their toll.

What we are seeing today are bandaids,” he said. “In my view, there is a high probability that we will see a total collapse of the Cuban electrical grid this summer.”

Diaz Canel told Cubans last week his government is negotiating with an allied country to build new plants, but warned that such investments “are extremely costly for the country and take years.

The president said the repair and maintenance work already underway will nonetheless bear fruit by early July, lending renewed stability to the grid for the coming summer.” (Source: Reuters)

As my companion and I walk hand in hand home through dark streets, we talk about Cuba’s rapid descent in the past few years.  To me it feels as if Cuba is on the descent from barely 2nd world status of 2020 to 3rd world, now in 2022.  The issues are so big, and so overwhelming that it seems next to impossible for them to handle it alone.  The current president seems grossly out of touch with what the average Cuban is trying to live with and his directives seem to be doing nothing but making life more difficult for the people at every turn.  Asking people to cut back on electric use in the name of the “revolution,” is only making the Cubans feel more insulted and angry.

Not wanting to go back home to just lay in bed sweating, instead we  go in search of a pizza.  Surprisingly, we find one pizza vendor working by a battery powered light and cooking with gas.  We walk to the park in the commercial center of Trinidad with our pizza and sit on one of the benches there under the moon to eat.  Strangely romantic, we stay there under the moon in the darkness talking for a long time.  We have nowhere to go, nothing to do, and going home to a hot sweaty bed is absolutely not inviting.   At least here, under the moon, there is a nice cool breeze and we have each other’s company to enjoy.  We sit there and share our life stories in the darkness.  We talk about the religion, our experiences in ceremony, trance, the spirit realm, drumming, dancing and love.  We try to leave the problems of Cuba for a little time to share in what connects us and what inspires us.  Eventually, and reluctantly, we start the walk home, arm in arm, relaxed into the dark night, two souls sharing comfort for a short time together under the moon with the lights out.


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