Cuba Sounds Summer Energy Alarm, Plans Blackouts

By: AP
By: AP

HAVANA -- Cubans are in for an especially hot summer under an energy saving plan that could shut off air conditioners at work and require Saturday-morning blackouts at home, according to an unpublished government directive obtained by The Associated Press.

The plan, signed by new Economics Minister Marino Murillo and circulating Tuesday among government offices and state companies, also calls for large-scale vacations for government workers but doesn't say if they will be paid. The measures are necessary, it says, to conserve petroleum used to generate electricity during the Caribbean nation's sweltering summer months.

Residential electrical use can often triple in the summer because of fans and air conditioners.

In the nation's capital, home to more than 2 million of Cuba's more than 11 million people, temperatures commonly hit 32 Celsius (near 90 degrees Fahrenheit) and up during the summer. Humidity hovers around 88 percent in the morning.

"On the bus, everyone is talking about it," food service worker Milenis Angarcia said of the measures, which had been rumored in recent days.

"Another 'Special Period' wouldn't be easy," she added, referring to severe economic measures taken in the early 1990s after the Soviet Union's collapse.

"What can you do? We'll move forward," said her co-worker Angela Angueira. "This country is prepared for anything."

The directive says the government is alarmed by unexpected increases in petroleum use this year and the "exceptional measures" will take effect Monday. It says 40,000 extra metric tons of petroleum worth $100,000 were used during the first three months of the year to cover an unplanned 3 percent increase in electricity over what was projected for that period.

The directive did not explain the increase, but there have been growing government calls in recent days for workers to labor harder and not waste petroleum and other resources.

The island produces about half its oil and receives the rest from Venezuela on highly preferential terms. Most of Cuba's electricity is generated by crude.

Venezuela and its socialist President Hugo Chavez, who has become Cuba's chief economic benefactor since the collapse of the Soviet Union, send the island 92,000 barrels of oil a day in exchange for social programs such Cuban doctors who provide free care. But Venezuela's ability to continue such largesse is uncertain as plummeting oil prices have put a major dent in its revenues.

Conservation plans will be prescribed for each province, and every government department must file a daily report on electrical use.

The directive says blackouts should not be scheduled during regular cooking times, to minimize the impact on homes. In addition to disconnecting air conditioners at workplaces, lighting at some businesses will be shut off.

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