Havana announces power outages and cancels carnival as crisis deepens

HAVANA, July 30 (Reuters) – Cuba’s capital Havana will begin power outages in August, has canceled carnivals and is taking other measures as the country’s energy crisis worsens, state media reported on Saturday.

The capital, home to a fifth of Cuba’s 11.2 million people and economic center, was spared the daily power outages of four hours or more that the rest of the island has endured for months.

Power outages sparked some small local protests this summer and fueled a day of unprecedented unrest across the country in July a year ago as discontent boiled over.

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For now, a power outage schedule means that in each of Havana’s six municipalities, electricity is cut every three days during midday rush hours, according to the local Communist Party daily, Tribuna de la Habana, which reported on a meeting of local authorities.

The blackouts reflect a deepening economic crisis that began with harsh new US sanctions on the island in 2019, worsened with the pandemic crippling tourism and then Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Rising prices for food, fuel and shipping have exposed import dependency and vulnerabilities such as decaying infrastructure. The country’s economy contracted by 10.9% in 2020 and only recovered by 1.3% last year.

Cubans have endured more than two years of food and medicine shortages, long lines to buy scarce goods, high prices and transportation problems. The blackouts have only added to frustration, prompting an exodus of more than 150,000 Cubans to the United States and many more since October.

“This is the moment to show solidarity and help the rest of Cuba suffer less from the unwanted blackouts,” Havana Communist Party leader Luis Antonio Torres was quoted as saying by the Tribuna.

Torres and others at the meeting insisted they were acting out of solidarity with other Cubans, not necessity, and announced other measures such as mass furloughs to shut down state-run businesses, working from home, and a 20 percent cut of energy allocations for private companies when consumption is high. The canceled carnival should have taken place next month.

Jorge Pinon, director of the University of Texas at Austin’s Latin American and Caribbean energy and environment program, said he offered a different assessment than Torres. He said the entire power grid was on the verge of collapse after recent fires at two of 20 already aging plants, while others were constantly collapsing.

“If you run the equipment past its capital maintenance schedule, it goes into a downward spiral with no short-term fix,” he told Reuters.

“The announced planned power outages are not solidarity but a necessity to avoid a possible total collapse of the system,” Pinon said.

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Reporting by Marc Frank Edited by Frances Kerry

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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