Cubans scamper to avoid dreaded blackouts
Tue Nov 24, 2009 2:11pm EST
By Marc Frank
HAVANA, Nov 24 (Reuters) – Cubans are scrambling to turn off lights and
appliances and children are going door to door reminding them to do just
that under a government threat of dreaded blackouts if energy
consumption is not reduced through the end of the year.
The drive to reduce energy use appears aimed at saving foreign exchange,
and not related to the lack of oil and generating capacity that caused
up to 18-hour blackouts in the 1990s after the demise of Cuba's patron
the Soviet Union.
In easternmost Guantanamo province, neighborhoods, on a rotating basis,
are abstaining for an hour in the evenings when consumption peaks.
"It is very important to save energy house by house. People know it is
the only alternative to blackouts," Guantanamo retiree Pedro Fernandez
said in a telephone interview.
In various provinces grammar school children, organized into "click
brigades," were reported going door to door to remind residents to save
Cuba has been grappling with the global economic downturn, which has
slashed revenues from key exports, dried up credit and reduced foreign
The communist-run Caribbean nation also faces stiff U.S. sanctions that
include cutting access to international lending institutions, and it is
still rebuilding from last year's trio of hurricanes that caused an
estimated $10 billion in damages.
The Cuban government controls all power generation and distribution and
sells electricity at subsidized prices.
"We are taking exceptional measures, such as shutting off air
conditioning and refrigeration in all state entities that do not
stockpile medicines and food," the deputy governor of central Villa
Clara province, Jesus Martuste, told the official Radio Rebelde.
"We have not shut down production, only adjusted some in the name of
efficiency," he said.
End-of-year university breaks have been extended a week, street lighting
significantly reduced in the capital and provinces, non-essential air
conditioning and refrigeration turned off, and some production and
services "adjusted" away from times of high demand, according to media
reports and a telephone survey of six provinces.
"The choice is simple. Save or suffer blackouts, and that is a situation
nobody wants to live through again," Gloria Hernandez, an office worker
in central Camaguey province, said in a telephone interview.
A Council of Ministers circular, dated Oct. 21 and which reduced
government power allocations, termed the energy situation "critical" and
called for "extreme measures" through December.
"The energy situation we face is critical and if we do not adopt extreme
measures we will have to revert to planned blackouts affecting the
population," said the order, which was seen by Reuters.
All provincial governments and most state-run offices and factories,
which encompass 90 percent of Cuba's economic activity, were already
ordered in June to reduce energy use by a minimum of 12 percent or face
mandatory electricity cuts.
The situation is not as dire as in the 1990s because Cuba receives
93,000 of the 150,000 barrels of oil per day that it consumes from
strategic ally Venezuela on preferential terms. (Additional reporting by
Nelson Acosta; Editing by Eric Beech) ((firstname.lastname@example.org;
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