[Marxism] Cuba scrambling to resolve electricity crisis

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Mon Aug 15 12:46:55 MDT 2005

(Cubans hate the blackouts. I've heard that incandescent bulbs 
have now been removed from the stores. As I understand it, they 
have exchanged incandescents for compact flourescents for FREE.
But it's a change and change is never easy. One of my friends a 
few days ago asked me to bring incandescent bulbs in next time
I visit, but I won't do that. I'm sure customs would only take 
them anyway. Some Cubans really don't like the inconveniences 
which go with such changes. Really, most people generally don't 
like changes in daily life. I recall that during the days when
Cuba was spraying against the mosquitoes which bring dengue fever, 
some tried to pretend they weren't home. One, the prominent Cuban 
dissident Marta Beatriz Roque, had to be taken from her home so the 
spraying could be done. A revolutionary government can make changes 
in these ways which, while annoying, are necessary and also are in 
the interests of society as a whole. In this case, given Cuba's 
deep electrical problems, radical measures like these are simply 
unavoidable. I don't like them either, but they're necessary.)

Posted on Mon, Aug. 15, 2005
Cuba scrambling to resolve electricity crisis
Knight Ridder Newspapers


(KRT) - Cuba's government has a solution to the electricity shortages
that some experts say might threaten the government's very existence:
energy-saving light bulbs.

Facing repeated blackouts that last 12 hours or longer, the
government has been scrambling to find fixes for an aged and 
rundown power system that serves 11 million residents.

Some $500 million is being invested to resolve the crisis, and Cuban
leader Fidel Castro recently announced a ban on importing and selling
incandescent lightbulbs - the household kind - to be replaced by
low-wattage bulbs.

But the nation's energy problems are so severe that experts say it
would take billions of dollars - and five years - to repair them all.

During recent months Cuba has been suffering its worst power outages
in 10 years, reminiscent to those in the early 1990s that helped
trigger the 1994 rafter crisis and sent thousands of refugees to
South Florida's shores.

"The Achilles heel to political and economic stability is going to be
the power structure - the electrical power structure," said Jorge R.
Pinon, a former Amoco oil man who studies energy issues at the
University of Miami. "Electricity is important, in some cases, as
important as food."

Cuba's energy crisis is the product of an aging and deteriorated
power structure hit by several hurricanes in the past few years.
There are seven power plants on the island, which together have a
capacity of 3,200 megawatts. They are currently running at about 50
percent capacity, Pinon said, but need to be at 65 percent to meet

Daunting energy challenges have hit the island since the early 1990s,
when the collapse of communism cut off the flow of cheap Soviet oil.
Cuban officials then started to run the power plants with
lower-quality oil that ate away at the already decaying plants, Pinon

The Antonio Guiteras plant in the central province of Matanzas, which
provides about 12 percent of the nation's power, collapsed for eight
months last year. Unable to use other plants to make up for the gap,
the result was long power outages, rotting food and frayed nerves.

"It's driving people nuts," said Dan Erikson, a Cuba expert at the
InterAmerican Dialogue in Washington. "The electrical grids just
don't work. They haven't invested in their infrastructure. It's back
to the bad old days that people thought faded into history."

This month the Ministry of Basic Industries announced that 400,000
incandescent bulbs were being replaced by lower wattage bulbs as part
of "Operation Save Energy." Roberto Gonzalez Vale, a ministry
specialist, said the goal was to replace 1.2 million bulbs in Havana
alone, the EFE news agency reported.

Had the new bulbs, imported from China, been installed in June, the
capital would have seen 20 percent fewer power outages, Gonzalez

The bulbs joined other energy-saving measures announced last year,
such as trimming school and work days by a half hour.

And while Venezuela's Hugo Chavez is now supplying Cuba with up to
90,000 barrels of oil at cut-rate prices, the sudden availability of
better quality Venezuelan oil has done little to stave the crisis.

In October, Castro fired Minister of Basic Industries Marcos Portal
for not warning the government of the impending disaster. The firing
was significant, because Portal was a Castro family protege who had
been in his post since 1983.

His replacement, Yadira Garcia Vera, has appeared on Cuban TV several
times this summer promising improvements. She warned that most of the
generating plants would be undergoing repairs in the coming months,
leaving the system 800 megawatts short, which would require scheduled

Some improvements have been achieved, said Elizardo Sanchez, a human
rights activist in Havana who heads the non-government Cuban
Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation.

"Compared to the first 20 days in July, when practically half the
country was in the dark, the electricity situation has improved in
the last two weeks for the whole island," Sanchez said in a telephone
interview. "Still, an atmosphere of energetic insecurity persists."

Sanchez said the power outages were among the causes of the number of
small protests that erupted in Cuba last month, which included people
throwing rocks at government buildings.

And last month, Castro said $500 million would be spent on 40,000 new
transformers, plus power lines and poles.

"It won't take much more time," Castro said at a July 26 speech
celebrating the anniversary of his revolution. "You can trust what I

A year earlier, he had promised there would be no shortages. "By the
first quarter of next year, you can all sleep peacefully."

Pinon scoffs at the $500 million program, saying it's a small-time
fix for a big-time job.

"That's like having a `56 Chevy that's falling apart, and you buy new
tires," Pinon said. "He needs billions of dollars for the power
plants and needs fuel oil, so he's getting new tires."


(Knight Ridder special correspondent Saudy Pena contributed to this


C 2005, The Miami Herald.

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