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Home World News Washington Post World News Small protests in Havana over island-wide power outages

Small protests in Havana over island-wide power outages


HAVANA – Several hundred Cubans took to the streets in Havana on Thursday evening to demand the restoration of electricity. They protested more than two days after a power outage hit the entire island following the passage of Hurricane Ian.

An Associated Press reporter saw a total of about 400 people gathered in at least two spots in the Cerro neighborhood, shouting, “We want light, we want light,” and banging pots and pans.

It was the first public outburst of anger after electricity problems spread from western Cuba, where Ian struck the entire electrical grid on Tuesday night, knocking out the entire electrical grid, leaving the 11 million people in limbo. The storm also killed three people and still caused unquantified damage.

In addition to power problems in Havana on Thursday, internet service was out and cell phones were not working.

Groups controlling internet access confirmed to the AP the internet disruption on the island.

“We can confirm the near-total internet outage in Cuba,” said Alp Toker, president of Netblocks, a London-based internet surveillance company. He said what his group is seeing is different from what happened right after the hurricane hit the island.

“We believe the incident will significantly affect the free flow of information amid protests,” he said.

Doug Madory, director of internet analytics at Kentik Inc., a network intelligence company, describes it as a “total internet outage” that started at 00:30 GMT.

The police arrived at a protest in Primellefstraat, but protesters remained at one of the corners. About 10 blocks away, on Calzada del Cerro, other protesters surrounded a work team trying to repair a pole and light transformer.

The two groups of protesters were still on the streets late into the night, but the gatherings remained peaceful.

In July 2021, Cuba saw its largest social protests in decades. Thousands of people, tired of power cuts and shortages of goods exacerbated by the pandemic and US sanctions, flocked to cities across the island to express their anger, some also lashing out at the government. Hundreds were arrested and prosecuted, sparking harsh criticism of President Miguel Diaz-Canel’s government.

The government has not said what percentage of the population is without electricity, but electricity authorities said on Thursday that only 10% of Havana’s 2 million residents had power.

Earlier Thursday, Ivette Garrido shared how she rushed last week to get the 6 kilograms of subsidized chicken allocated to her family by the Cuban government and put it in the freezer, happy she had meat to weather Hurricane Ian.

Now she’s considering giving the chicken to her three dogs before things go bad, as a massive power outage caused by the storm lasts more than two days and thaws everything in her freezer amid scorching temperatures.

“We’re not really having a good time, we’re trying to survive, to keep things from thawing,” said Garrido, who lives with her mother and a 19-year-old daughter in the city of Cojimar on the outskirts of Havana.

Electricity returned in some parts of Cuba on Wednesday, turning on and then off in other parts. Experts said the total power outage demonstrated the fragility of Cuba’s power grid and warned it will take time and resources — things the country doesn’t have — to fix the problem.

The authorities have promised to work without rest to tackle the problem.

“We’ve never been without electricity for so long,” Garrido said. “They put it at 24 hours, at 36, but it’s been over 48 hours. It’s criminal. Who is responsible for this?”

She has placed bottles of frozen water that had been in the freezer next to the chicken, along with some pork and sausages, to try and keep the meat longer. A fan and television also await the return of electricity.

Calls by AP to a dozen people in Cuba’s main cities – Holguín, Guantánamo, Matanzas, Ciego de Ávila, Camagüey and Santiago – found similar problems to Havana, with most reporting their neighborhoods were still without electricity.

Authorities say the total power outage was the result of a breakdown in connections between Cuba’s three regions – west, center and east – caused by Ian’s winds.

Cuba’s power grid “was already in a critical and immunocompromised state due to the deterioration of its thermoelectric power plants. The patient is now on a ventilator,” said Jorge Piñon, director of the Latin America and Caribbean program at the Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy at the University of Texas.

Cuba has 13 power plants, eight of which are traditional thermoelectric plants, and five floating plants that have been leased from Turkey since 2019. Since an energy reform in 2006, there is also a group of small power plants scattered all over the country.

But the factories are poorly maintained, a phenomenon the government attributed to the lack of funds and US sanctions. Complications in getting fuel is also a problem.

Andrea Rodriguez on Twitter:

Associated Press writer E. Eduardo Castillo contributed to this report from Mexico City.

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