Havanans brace for a new 'Special Period'
Everyone is afraid of it, and nobody wants to go through another decade like the 90s, with blackouts and hunger. Very few are preparing for the cutbacks that have already begun, and that may intensify, although some are trying to grab what they think is necessary: candles, toilet paper, soap.
At the old Ten-Cents at 23rd and 10th, in El Vedado, candles are sold by the box. But stores have not been stocked with what people might need.
"Rechargeable lamps, for example," says a resident of Alamar who knows what it's like to suffer random blackouts. "I've tramped all over Havana and there are shops that haven't had them in months, and they tell you upfront: 'We don’t know if we'll be getting any.' And I wonder what we're going to do."
Several employees at appliance stores reported that hundreds of people have asked about these lamps this week.
Almost everyone agrees that Cuba cannot withstand another crisis. But Eva, who is a housewife who has always suffered shortages in her kitchen, says, "What do they mean? We never emerged from the last 'Special Period'... since 2000, when the crisis supposedly ended, we have been complaining about shortages in stores ... and the situation with agriculture in recent times has been scandalous ... do you know what it's like to line up for a potato? "
Most of those interviewed still cannot believe the news. They think it's just a Government bluff to "end up selling the country to the Americans."
Leticia remembers the recently-held Congress of the Communist Party (PCC). "After they said that this could really be eternal, it's very hard to say, 'We're going to sell it all to the Americans, to Yankee imperialism.' Suddenly everything they have left turns against them."
"They're going to sell Cuba to the Americans, not those of us who can buy it, and then move to France as if they themselves were Americans," is concludes Noel, who hawks glasses (on the sly) on the Boulevard de San Rafael.
"A new 'Special Period'? Ah, yes, I've heard about it. But do you believe it?" Sandra, who works for the Electric Company believes that everything has to be a hoax because, despite the summer savings plan, they still haven´t been called to a meeting about any blackout plans.
However, several sources say that Havana is running out of fuel, even for self-employed drivers.
This weekend Isabel, who is used to being driven when she goes shopping, had to go on foot. She shared how Alberto, her husband, drove the family's Peugeot to all "the CUPET (gas stations) in Vedado on Sunday night, but found no fuel. Eventually he returned, out of gas, and unable to buy anything, even on the black market."
Among others, the telephone company ETECSA and the "Electrical Union" have reduced the fuel allocation for cars assigned to them by 50%.
According to a botero (taxi driver) making the Havana-Marianao run, people have begun to hoard: "Whoever didn't store up is screwed. I had a little bit stowed away, and I'm getting by on it without worrying too much, because you can still find oil on the black market for 15 pesos. "
Last summer it cost 10 pesos on the black market, and even as little as 8. Now prices of some taxi routes have begun to rise.
The Vedado-Liga contra la Ceguera route in Marianao used to cost 10 pesos, but now it's up to 20. Trips to the beach, which during this period of the year are normally more expensive only at peak times, now cost 2 CUC at all times, and range up to 5 CUC during the busiest.
The Vedado route from Almendares bridge to Havana, the Capitol or Central Park costs 10 pesos. However, the drivers' strategy has been to establish a stop at L and 23, with another direct shot to Havana, forcing travellers to pay double.
Those who remember the last “Special Period” are beginning to concoct more radical plans in case a new one hits.
"I'm ready," says a worker at the Gaviota S.A. hotel chain. "To start throwing bottles and to do my own thing, because these people's nerve knows no bounds. Last week they tell me that we have even more tourists in Havana than we ever expected ... and this week that there's no money to buy oil? "
"What are they going to tell me, that I'm going to lose my job?" She lets out a cackle. "So far people have been deceiving themselves because, although the salary is crap, your life is here, but the truth is that times have changed. It'd be a return to the jungle, like we saw in the 90s, and I'm not gonna take it. There are just a few of them, and many of us."
Santiago, who suffered his first blackout in El Vedado early Tuesday morning, wonders: "How could this old fool dared say that we don't need anything?" – referring to Fidel Castro's tirade after Obama's influential visit to Havana. "How come nobody told him to shut up if he knew what was brewing? They're playing with fire and they're going to get burned."