Cuba suffers third major blackout in a week

Amid blackouts and scarce food, Cuba protests rattle 'cradle' of the Revolution

HAVANA, Feb 22  Cuba on Tuesday suffered its third major blackout in little more than a week, leaving a vast swath of the center and east of the island without power, energy officials said on state-run TV. Cuba´s mid-day television news broadcast said “it was investigating the causes of the {electrical failure}” and that the country´s state-run electrical company had begun work to restore power.

The blackout Tuesday spanned 430 miles (700 km) from Cienfuegos province in south-central Cuba to Guantanamo, on the far southeastern tip, leaving more than half of the country´s population of 11 million without power. Scattered blackouts were also reported in the capital Havana.

The mass electrical outage – the third in a week – left many in Cuba scratching their heads and concerned about what the energy-intensive summer might bring, when many residents crank up their air conditioning to stay cool in the Caribbean heat.

Blackouts in communist-run Cuba – a country already suffering from severe shortages of food, fuel and medicine – touch a political nerve and are widely seen as the tipping point that led to anti-government protests in July 2021, the largest since former President Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution.

On Saturday, another blackout cut power for millions of people from Matanzas, east of Havana, to Guantanamo, an outage power officials attributed to a “human operation error.” A fire in a sugar cane field had knocked out power to nearly two-thirds of the country several days before, on February 13.

The Minister of Energy and Mines said last week that rolling blackouts would resume and last until May while the country overhauls decades-old oil-fired power plants ahead of the summer season.

The minister said unexpected problems with generation could flare up again in coming months, causing more severe blackouts, “but nothing like the 10-hour average of October 2022.”

Cuban officials have blamed fuel shortages, deferred maintenance and difficulties processing heavy sour Cuban crude, also burned at its plants, for hobbling power generation.

Those issues, officials say, have been exacerbated by the U.S. Cold War-era embargo on Cuba, which complicates financing and purchase of parts, fuel and capital investment.