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Cuba struggles to keep the lights on given decrepit grid By Reuters


© Reuters. FILEPHOTO: In Havana (Cuba), April 8th 2021, a woman walks by houses under quarantine because of concerns over the spreading coronavirus disease COVID-19. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini


By Marc Frank

HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuban state media said on Friday that the intermittent blackouts that have plagued the island since June are caused by an aging power infrastructure and lack of proper maintenance and cautioned that residents should be prepared for more in the coming months.

The power outages reflect a deepening economic crisis that began with harsh new U.S. sanctions in 2019 and worsened with the pandemic, exposing such vulnerabilities as a decaying infrastructure and dependence on foreign currency from tourism and remittances to purchase food, medicine, raw materials and spare parts.

“No one should think the problem will be solved quickly,” Energy and Mining Minister Livan Arronte Cruz was quoted as stating during a discussion of the power grid with other officials broadcast by state-run television on Thursday evening.

Participants stated that Cuban power plants were on average 35 years old, and had a backup system consisting of hundreds of generators less than 15 years old. Only 5% of the power was generated from other sources.

Blackouts recall the post-Soviet Depression of 1990s when the lights went out more often than necessary due to fuel scarcity. These outages don’t happen every day, last for less than 4 hours, and can be caused by infrastructure problems.

After a day of demonstrations about living conditions that swept through the country July 11, protests were prompted in part by power outages.

On Thursday, the government provided details about specific areas and explained how power outages occurred. It also gave information on how residents can make small changes such as turning down one light and closing their fridges more often.

After years of stagnation, Cuba’s economy fell 10.9% and 2.2% between June 2018-2016.

Cubans survived more than 18 months worth of food, medicine, and other shortages. They also endured long queues to buy scarce goods and high prices. Tourism is suffering and vital resources of employment and funds have been closed down. The blackouts only add to the frustration.

Edier Guzman Pacheco, the director of the power plants in the Communist-run Caribbean, said that there was a crisis that meant that funds weren’t available for maintenance. He also stated that two generators were delayed because suppliers cancelled contracts as a result of new Trump-era U.S. Sanctions. According to him, this led to lower output than expected and frequently breaking down.

“Of the 20 thermo generators in the country, 18 are overdue for light or partial maintenance and 16 capital maintenance,” he said.

The broadcast was over, and Minister Arronte Cruz did not make any promises except to inform residents. According to him, the country had done all it could to prevent blackouts. He also stated that plans were in place to expand capacity and find alternative energy sources.

“No one should think we are doing this intentionally to annoy the people,” he said.

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