Power outages, food shortages trigger social unrest in Cuba — By: Catholic News Agency

People use a car to light themselves on a dark street during a blackout in Bauta municipality, Artemisa province, Cuba, on March 18, 2024. / Credit: YAMIL LAGE/AFP via Getty Images

ACI Prensa Staff, Mar 19, 2024 / 16:15 pm (CNA).

Prolonged power outages and food shortages triggered protests in Cuba in different cities on March 17. Layman Osvaldo Gallardo and Catholic priest Father Alberto Reyes shared with ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, the causes of this latest crisis in the island nation.

“In Cuba there have been power outages throughout the history of the Cuban Revolution [since the 1960s], because the system has never had sustained economic development that would have made a suitable grid possible,” Gallardo told ACI Prensa on March 18. 

The infrastructure for electricity production in Cuba includes eight old plants along with backup generators and eight offshore floating plants, all of them impacted by the shortage of diesel fuel necessary for their operation.

Gallardo, a religious freedom activist who lived for more than 40 years in Cuba and currently resides in Miami, said that in addition to the electricity shortage people are going hungry, as “there are no supplies to distribute to the population.”

“The food allotment that the government provides to sustain families for a month is increasingly inadequate. There are areas of the country where nothing has arrived yet and there are others where they have given out two pounds of rice and two pounds of sugar,” he explained.

The situation has gotten to the point where at the end of February, for the first time, the Cuban government requested assistance from the World Food Program due to “difficulties in distributing subsidized milk to children under 7 years of age.”

Gallardo commented that, although there are stores that sell food priced in dollars, not everyone has access to help from relatives from abroad or a steady income that allows them to feed themselves “fairly well.”

“The majority of the Cuban people right now don’t have anything to eat, although the regime’s propaganda claims that it is guaranteeing the essentials,” he added.

On Sunday, March 17, hundreds of Cubans took to the streets to express their discontent over shortages and rising prices of basic products. The first demonstrations took place in Santiago de Cuba, the second-largest city in the country, where power outages have been lasting for up to 13 or 14 hours.

Social media posts, especially on X, were the main means of spreading these protests in different parts of the country.

Father Alberto Reyes, who lives in the Esmeralda area located in the central province of Camagüey, told ACI Prensa on March 18 that people there are upset just like the rest of the country.

“People are talking endlessly, people are complaining nonstop, but Esmeralda until now has been a very compliant town, people complaining to themselves and doing nothing publicly,” he lamented.

According to the priest, the situation has become desperate on the island. 

“It’s desperate because we’re caught between the lack of electricity and food. That is to say, what little there is to eat can’t be cooked. This totally immobilizes you, because you can’t do anything. People are at a point of desperation and can’t take it anymore,” he said.

The country’s president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, wrote on X March 17 that “various people have expressed their unhappiness with the electricity service and the distribution of food” and claimed that “the enemies of the Revolution are trying to take advantage of this context for destabilizing purposes.” 

However, Gallardo criticized Díaz-Canel’s explanation, pointing out that it “no longer has any validity” and “no one in Cuba believes it.”

According to Reyes, the “split between the government and the people” is increasingly noticeable. 

“It’s as if the government is not interested in the people. The government is the big missing factor in all this. One official or another comes out trying to calm things down, but here there’s no one saying ‘let’s see, this is the situation, let’s do something.’ People are totally fed up,” he explained.

According to Gallardo, although the government has not denied the problems, it hasn’t explained their origin or their real dimension. 

“They assure that it’s a problem that they’re trying to solve, that the [U.S.] embargo is to blame, and that what meets the minimum requirement and is essential is being distributed, but that’s not true,” he said.

For the Cuban layman and for Reyes, conditions are ripe for major street protests to occur, similar to those that took place in July 2021.

“The climate is tense and the situation is ripe for these uprisings. The problem is that the repression is so fierce that, when night falls, they begin to crack down immediately, cutting off the internet and snuffing out the protest,” Gallardo explained.

Reyes commented that everything depends on “the spark multiplying and becoming widespread.” 

“It could happen at any time,” he said.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

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