Cuba replaces energy minister as hours-long blackouts stir unrest

Cuba replaces energy minister as hours-long blackouts stir unrest

HAVANA, Oct 17 (Reuters) – Cuba´s government replaced its energy and mines minister with Vicente de la O Levy, head of the state-run electronics company, official media reported on Monday, as the country struggles to contain hours-long blackouts that have stirred rare protests across the island.

The newly appointed O Levy formerly served as director of the National Electric Union, the state´s grid operator, and spent time in Venezuela, a close ally of Cuba, as a delegate from the island´s energy sector.

The government thanked the former energy minister, Nicolás Liván Arronte, for his service and said he would be assigned new responsibilities.

The announcement, on the state-run television broadcast, did not make clear the reason for replacing Arronte. But the decision comes as Cuba battles one of its worst-ever energy crises, made acute by the coronavirus pandemic and harsh U.S. sanctions implemented under the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump.

Those sanctions have remained largely in place under Trump´s successor, Joe Biden.

The government also announced on Monday it would replace the head of the state-run grid operator.

Blackouts, which now span 12 hours a day or more, touch a political nerve in Cuba. The rolling outages began earlier this year and have spread across all of the country’s provinces – including, more recently, the capital, Havana.

Cuba´s electric grid collapsed following Hurricane Ian in late September, prompting scattered protests across Havana. Several protests have since taken place in provincial towns and cities as the outages persist or worsen in some areas.

Cuba´s Prosecutor´s Office on Friday said it was investigating cases that followed the hurricane in which protesters had “perturbed public order and citizen peace,” including alleged incidents of arson, blocking public roads and vandalism, and assault against law enforcement officers.