Cuban drivers miss diesel as a fuel used for electricity

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HAVANA — Dany Pérez had spent four days in a line of vehicles waiting to fill his truck with the diesel he needed for the 900 kilometer (560 mile) trip from Havana to his home in eastern Cuba.

Taxi driver Jhojan Rodríguez waited even longer at another station – it was approaching two weeks – but he was eventually near the front of the queue of hundreds of vehicles in the capital’s Playa district.

Such lines have become increasingly common in Cuba, where authorities have apparently sent scarce diesel fuel to power plants rather than vehicle service stations.

It’s not the first time the island has experienced fuel shortages, but it’s one of the worst.

“I’ve seen some pretty bad situations, but not like now,” said Pérez, 46, who ate and slept in his 1950s Chevrolet truck, which he outfitted to carry around 40 passengers.

Line drivers have tried to organize themselves by creating lists of those waiting and updating them daily as they await the arrival of tankers with fuel. Thanks to the lists, those who live nearby can go home for spells – tracking any progress via a WhatsApp group.

“I am a professional taxi driver. … I pay taxes, social security. I’m legally established,” said Rodríguez, the 37-year-old owner of a gold and white 1954 Oldsmobile whose worn-out gasoline engine had at one point been replaced with a diesel. “My home, my family depend on this diesel .

The car ran out of fuel and Rodríguez had to push it into the line. It was 12 days earlier. Authorities say drivers can only fill their tanks, but not other containers. For Rodríguez, it’s 60 liters (16 gallons), which he says will last him three days.

The recent fuel shortage is largely affecting diesel – used by heavy-duty vehicles and classic cars whose original engines were replaced long ago, often by Eastern European truck engines – rather than the gasoline used by most cars.

Rodriguez expressed frustration with the lack of clear explanations from officials.

“Nobody said ‘this is what’s happening’ with the fuel,” Rodríguez said. “If at some point there was information that, ‘Look, there’s no fuel because the situation in the country requires it to give people electricity,’ I would understand.”

Experts – agreeing with the scuttlebut on the streets – say the country cannot afford to buy all the diesel it needs and what it does have is for generating electricity.

“What we’re seeing is what we call the domino effect,” said Jorge Piñon, director of the energy program for Latin America and the Caribbean at the University of Texas at Austin.

“The collapse of thermoelectric power plants has caused an increased demand for diesel generators. Venezuela did not send Cuba the amount of diesel it needed, so Cuba had to participate in the supply that was dedicated to the transport sector for diesel power generation groups,” he said. declared.

Half of Cuba’s electricity comes from 13 thermoelectric plants, eight of which are over 30 years old. They generally rely on the island’s heavy crude oil, but their operation has been erratic. The island is therefore turning to diesel units to try to make up the shortfall.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Cuba used around 137,000 barrels of fuel per day – gasoline, diesel, natural gas and derivatives – to keep the economy moving. About half of that came from political ally Venezuela, which has itself sunk into economic crisis and, under US mismanagement and embargoes, is finding it increasingly difficult to produce and ship fuel. .

A series of recent power cuts has caused public outrage and led Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel to attempt to explain the situation on national television and to visit thermoelectric power plants.

International media and tanker tracking sites reported that a Russian tanker carrying 700,000 barrels of oil reached Cuba in recent days, although authorities did not comment.

“We believe this is a shipment from Russia instead of Venezuela – that this is a triangulation where Russia substitutes Venezuela with this shipment, which will later be paid for by Venezuela. and not by Cuba,” Piñon said.

Meanwhile, Cubans are adapting however they can – whether at home or moving abroad.

“I’m going to keep fighting because I can’t stop working,” Pérez said at the Guanabacoa train station, east of central Havana. “but if there is no (fuel), we will have to park it.”

At the Playa station, taxi driver Rodríguez said he was considering other options.

“My plan B is to sell the car and leave the country with my family. I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

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