© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: People walk under a Cuban flag in downtown Havana, Cuba, on October 8, 2021. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
Havana (Reuters) – Cuba’s capital Havana will start a power outage in August, cancel the carnival and take other measures as the country’s energy crisis worsens, state media reported on Saturday.
The capital, home to one-fifth of Cuba’s 11.2 million population and the center of Cuba’s economic activity, has seen the rest of the island experience power outages of four hours or more a day for months.
The power outage sparked some small local protests this summer, and a year earlier in July, as discontent erupted, unprecedented riots erupted across the country.
Currently, the blackout schedule means that each of Havana’s six cities will experience power outages every three days during the midday rush hour, according to the local Communist daily Tribuna de la Habana. authorities.
The power outages reflect a deepening economic crisis that began with tough new U.S. sanctions on the island in 2019 and worsened with a pandemic crippling tourism and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Soaring food, fuel and shipping prices have exposed import dependence and vulnerabilities, such as aging infrastructure. The country’s economy fell by 10.9% in 2020 and recovered only 1.3% last year.
Cubans have endured more than two years of food and medicine shortages, long queues for scarce goods, high prices and poor transportation. The power outages have only added to the frustration, causing more than 150,000 Cubans to flee to the United States and elsewhere since October.
The Tribune quoted Havana Communist Party leader Luis Antonio Torres as saying: “Now is the time to show solidarity and contribute so that the rest of Cuba is not affected by the bad blackout.”
Torres and others at the meeting insisted they were in solidarity with fellow Cubans, not out of necessity, and announced other measures, such as massive furloughs to close state-run companies, working from home and a 20 percent cut in energy allocation for private companies high consumption. The canceled carnival was due to take place next month.
Jorge Pinon, director of the Latin American and Caribbean Energy and Environment Program at the University of Texas at Austin, said he offered a different assessment than Torres. He said that after the recent fires at two of the 20 outdated power plants, the entire grid nearly collapsed, while others continued to fail.
“When you continue to run equipment beyond its capital maintenance schedule, it goes into a downward spiral with no short-term solution,” he told Reuters.
“The announced scheduled outages are not for solidarity, but to avoid a possible total collapse of the system,” Pinon said.