Seeing the Light in Havana
Ray Sanchez/Direct from Havana | Direct from Havana
12:05 PM EST, November 25, 2008
Before I moved into my new apartment in the Vedado neighborhood, the
word among residents was that the power hardly ever went out along the
four-block stretch from Linea to the seaside Malecon.
Besides, the lengthy apagones, or blackouts, so familiar to Cubans just
three years ago are rapidly becoming part of the island folklore.
Generous deals with China and Venezuela averted the collapse of an
obsolete and inefficient electrical generation and transmission system
made up mostly of aging Soviet-bloc equipment.
Moving in, though, brought a new reality: parts of the Vedado have been
losing power sporadically much of the past month. The lights go out for
15- to 30-minute intervals, usually during the day. At times it will be
down two to three hours.
"I was stuck on an elevator for more than an hour," said Juana Espinal,
49. She was delivering eggs to a fifth-floor apartment near the Foreign
Ministry when the lights went out Friday. "No one noticed I was on the
elevator. I sat on the floor and waited calmly. These things happen.
This is Cuba."
Like many things on the island, there is no clear explanation for the
blackouts. Some attributed the problem to local construction. A power
company representative said the "sporadic outages could be caused by
ongoing efforts to upgrade the power grid."
Who knows? These things happen.
A building superintendent offered a solution: a makeshift
gasoline-powered generator set up in your kitchen or washroom, with an
attached garden hose dangling from an open window to let out the toxic
"You have to be very careful," he said. And it makes a racket. But it
keeps essential appliances powered for several hours. The price: $486.
Of course, it would only be temporary. Over the weekend, economic czar
Carlos Lage said hundreds of new fuel oil generators will provide the
island with some 1,700 megawatts of power by late 2010.