Among a range of other austerity measures that it is taking, Cuba is canceling Carnival, its most anticipated celebration, this year. Havana, the capital of Cuba, has a serious energy problem and it will be taking grave measures to manage the problem. As the state media reported on Saturday, it will begin power outages in August.
The capital, with its population of 11.2 million, a fifth of the island nation’s total, had up to the present time been spared the daily power outages of four or more hours that have plagued the rest of the island already for months.
Last July saw the start of unprecedented unrest across the country with widespread protests as discontent boiled over. For now, a power outage schedule is being instituted, each of Havana’s six municipalities will be out of power every three days during peak afternoon hours, according to the local Communist Party daily, Tribuna de la Habana.
The blackouts reflect a deepening economic crisis that began when the US, under former president Trump, imposed harsh sanctions on the island in 2019. The crisis then worsened with the pandemic and its inevitable consequences on tourism, and then Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Rising food, fuel and shipping prices have exposed import dependency and vulnerabilities, such as crumbling infrastructure. The country’s economy fell 10.9% in 2020 and only recovered 1.3% last year.
Conditions of daily life are dire, Cubans have already experienced more than two years of food and medicine shortages, long lines to buy goods that become scarcer by the day, and high prices for all necessities as well as transportation problems. The power outages have greatly added to frustration, and have led to an exodus of more than 150,000 Cubans since October, some to the United States and more elsewhere.
Havana Communist Party leader Luis Antonio Torres, encouraging Havan residents to do their duty, was quoted in La Tribuna, “Now is the time to show solidarity and contribute so that the rest of Cuba suffers less from the unwanted blackouts”.
Torres and others at the meeting insisted that they act out of solidarity with fellow Cubans, not out of necessity, and announced other measures such as mass vacations to shut down state-owned companies, working from home, and a 20% cut in energy allocation for high-power private companies.
However, Jorge Pinon, director of the University of Texas at Austin’s Latin America and Caribbean Energy and Environment Program, disagrees with Torres and said the entire power grid nearly collapsed after recent fires at two of the 20 already obsolete plants, while others were constantly breaking down, making these Havana blackouts a necessity, not an act of solidarity.
One of the harsh measures that will no doubt greatly affect public sentiment and spirit is the canceling of Carnival, the most important annual island festivity and one that has been celebrated for centuries. The Carnival that takes place every August is seen as a showcase of Cuban and Caribbean culture and traditions, that includes food fairs, amazing parades, floats and lots of music and dances. Above all, it’s considered a national celebration to lift the spirits of the Cuban people among their long-endured privations.