Havana, Cuba (CNN) — For Cubans, the heat is going nowhere and the power could go out at any moment.
Enduring hot summer temperatures and power outages has long been a part of everyday life in Cuba, but now the island is grappling with severe fuel shortages, failing power plants and widespread blackouts that are putting testing even the most patient.
The energy crisis is of particular concern to government officials after last year’s widespread protests, the largest since the Cuban Revolution, that began after residents fed up with blackouts and took to the streets.
Last week, residents of the western city of Los Palacios furiously banged on pots and pans in a “cacerolazo” to protest a nightly blackout. Residents reported that internet service was down for several hours and that local authorities were finally able to calm down the protesters. At least for the moment.
“Cuba looks like a powder keg that can explode on any street corner,” said Miguel, who lives in the same province where the latest protests took place. He asked that his full name not be used for fear of reprisals.
In response to the growing energy crisis, authorities regularly report power shortages, but the news is rarely good.
“The situation is complex and tense at the moment, but there is a solution even if it doesn’t happen immediately,” Minister of Energy and Mines Livan Arronte Cruz said during an appearance on state television on Monday, admitting that the blackouts will continue. during the summer.
Cuban officials say U.S. sanctions, which have increased exponentially under the Trump administration and have largely remained under President Biden, make buying spare parts for power plants and even fuel be difficult and more expensive.
But analyst Jorge Piñon, director of the Energy Program for Latin America and the Caribbean at the University of Texas at Austin, said Cuba’s government is producing less than the crude it needs to run the island’s power plants and is increasingly facing an energy deficit.
Investments in renewable energies have not yielded results so far. A proposed Chinese joint venture to build a wind farm is behind schedule, and a British project to convert sugarcane milling waste into energy has been hampered by the recent poor harvest, the worst in Cuba in more than 100 years. Pinon said.
Even more damaging is the government’s lack of investment in maintaining the aging power grid.
“I’m not an alarmist, but for the first time in a long time I’m really worried,” Piñon told CNN. “There are a number of cumulative effects taking place that cannot be fixed with Band-Aids. We are talking about huge structural investments of billions of dollars that could take years to solve this problem.”
Cuban authorities acknowledge that there are no significant repairs on the horizon and that the best they can do is continue fixing existing plants and importing what fuel they can.
“The power plants have consumed more than the small amount of fuel that we have,” Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel said in a televised speech in June, “fundamentally diesel, which is very difficult for us to obtain and means that our energy generation is affected, as well as important economic activities”.
Amid energy cuts, Cubans complain that public transportation is increasingly scarce and that government fumigators have not had the fuel needed to carry out the work of fumigating against the mosquitoes that transmit dengue.
Drivers who use diesel for their cars and trucks now wait for days at state stations to fill up.
At a station in Havana, a long line of cars and trucks was ready for the next shipment of diesel.
People played dominoes or slept in their cars to pass the time. Drivers in the front row said they had waited more than eight days to fill up. They said they had devised a system using the WhatsApp messaging app to virtually organize a queue, but had been told by police to be there in person.
“We can’t leave,” Ivan said as he waited to fill up his beat-up 1958 Buick. “If you leave, someone else takes your job and you have to go back to the beginning and start over.”