Cuba warns of worsening blackouts as fuel crisis bites


By Marc Frank

HAVANA (Reuters) – Power blackouts in Cuba are expected to increase significantly due to a lack of fuel, officials warned in a nationwide TV broadcast, worsening the country’s plight as it deals with food and medicine shortages.

Local governments have already begun announcing restrictions on power usage at state-run companies and other entities, including moves to postpone sporting events and university classes.

“We are not going to have the level of fuel we need or what we had in previous months,” Energy and Mining Minister Vicente de la O Levy told the broadcast late on Wednesday alongside the country’s economy minister.

The officials suggested citizens could expect blackouts of up to eight to 10 hours per day starting in October outside of Havana, where residents are usually spared power outages.

The Communist-run island has been mired in crisis and plagued by blackouts and shortages of food, medicine and fuel since the pandemic. Gross domestic product is 8% below 2020 levels and goods production 40% below, according to the government.

Cuba says U.S. sanctions are largely to blame for the crisis, depriving the country of foreign exchange to import most of its fuel, food and other supplies. Washington says the Communist Party is responsible for Cuba’s ills and that the sanctions aim to restore democracy and respect for human rights.

The officials on Wednesday said Cuba was making daily efforts to secure fuel to keep the country running, without explaining why the situation had gone from bad to worse.

Venezuela, Cuba largest oil supplier, has slightly boosted exports to an average of 58,000 barrels per day (bpd) so far this year, from 55,000 bpd in 2022, with more fuel oil for power generation delivered. Cuba has also seen regular crude and fuel imports from Russia and Mexico, according to shipping data.

But the imports have not been enough to meet the island’s rising fuel demand and to compensate for insufficient domestic refining, said Jorge Pinon, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Texas in Austin.

“Cuba has bought more crude and fuel this year, compared with last year. However, the electricity sector’s rising demand (has) not been met either by domestic production or by sufficient supply by Venezuela,” Pinon said.

“If Mexico or Russia cease supply, problems will be bigger,” he added.

Cuba’s crisis has sparked numerous demonstrations, including nation-wide protests in July 2021 that were the largest since deceased leader Fidel Castro’s 1959 Revolution. Hundreds of thousands of people have left the country over the past two years, mostly to the United States.

(Reporting by Marc Frank with additional reporting by Nelson Acosta and Marianna Parraga; editing by Rami Ayyub)

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