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Blackouts will be voluntary as of January 1st in Cuba, where electricity will cost up to 500% more than after years of heavy subsidies, an increase that will make Cubans think twice about turning on the air conditioning or more lights than strictly necessary.
The increase is one of the measures that accompany the long-postponed process of monetary and exchange rate unification that will start on the first day of 2021, along with an expected wage reform and the withdrawal of a good deal of the subsidies previously applied to basic products and services.
If in times of crisis Cubans have always feared programmed supply cuts that reached their greatest intensity in the “special period,” when the population spent more hours without electricity than with it, now the “blackouts” will reluctantly take on the category of self-inflicted, for fear of the electric bill.
“Magic, that’s what we’re going to do”
“I’m going to pray that it will be enough for me to pay the electricity bill at the end of the month because not only did the salary go up, but everything went up, and so we stayed the same,” Isi told EFE, a young tour guide who, when asked what she would do to save on the unexpected bill, “magic, magic, that’s what we’re going to do.”
Until now, basic services were subsidized to a high percentage, which kept the cost of living in the island relatively under control, despite low salaries and pensions.
With the new year, water prices will also increase, while telecommunications for the moment seem to be kept as before, but they already had one of the highest costs in the world.
The new rates for homes are divided into ten rungs, in which the price increases with greater consumption while the three lowest consumption rungs remain slightly subsidized, but the remaining six are five times the current price.
Prices range from 0.40 pesos per Kwh, which those who spend from 0 to 100 Kwh will pay, to 25 (a little more than one dollar), which those who consume more than 5,000 Kwh will have to pay.
Although wages will rise in 2021, the percentage of income that households will have to spend on the electricity bill will increase even more.
Money from abroad to pay bills
With this panorama n mind, Cubans have not been slow to take inventory of their electrical gadgets taking out their calculators to estimate the scary new bills, which will not arrive until February.
María Elena, a retired woman, told EFE that she has “the usual” things in her house: three fans, a refrigerator and a television. “I don’t know how the bill will be,” she says with a shrug.
The tyranny, meanwhile, argues that the new prices seek to “discourage consumption” and encourage savings.
Last Sunday night, Economics Minister Alejandro Gil defended on state television that the formula is “fair and equitable” and that “socialist formulas” were applied to continue protecting those with lower incomes.
However, the merciless Caribbean heat means that there are now few homes, humble or not, that do not have at least one air conditioner, many thanks to the economic help they receive from family abroad, since in Cuba it is mission impossible to generate income, which is why millions of Cubans have escaped to the United States to have a dignified life.
The same is true of large freezers used to store food to help them cope with the chronic shortage of food in the country. Added to this are the thousands of stoves, heaters and electric pots that have been in Cuban homes since the so-called “Energy Revolution” initiated in 2006 by the late Cuban ex-president Fidel Castro.
These appliances, mostly manufactured in China, replaced the old Soviet equipment that consumed even more energy.
Yaimara García, a worker in the education sector, acknowledged to EFE that the only solution is to save.
“When I leave for work I leave everything off, only what’s most necessary remains on. When I get home I’ll start cooking before peak hours, and if I’m in the living room I turn off the kitchen and if I’m in the kitchen I turn off the living room,” she states assuredly.
Another aspect of the problem is that Cuban homes are overcrowded. Several generations live together under the same roof due to the chronic housing deficit in the island, which in the era of communications multiplies the number of devices connected to the current, such as cell phones and computers.
The rise is also expected to hit the private sector, from hairdressers to landlords to restaurants, which in turn will affect the prices of their services, which the government has told them that they will be able to raise to “triple them” at most.
“I have to raise them,” laments Fran, a young barber outraged with the situation.
José Carlos, a high school student, is more optimistic: “It’s not as bad as they say, I think it’s fair. You have to save, not to be all day with the lights on if it’s not necessary, not to have the air on all day,” he argues.