Small protests appear in Havana over islandwide blackout
HAVANA (AP) — The widespread power outage caused by Hurricane Ian prompted several hundred people to protest in Havana, and a monitoring group said the island’s internet service shut down again Friday in what appeared to be an attempt to curb information about the demonstrations from spreading.
An Associated Press journalist saw about 400 people gathered Thursday night in at least two spots in the Cerro neighborhood shouting, “We want light, we want light,” and banging pots and pans.
It appeared to be the first public display over the electricity problems that spread from western Cuba, where Ian hit on Tuesday, to the entire island, leaving the country’s 11 million people in the dark. The storm also left three people dead and caused still unquantified damage.
Power was restored to much of the island within a day after the storm’s blast. But there still areas without service, including in the capital.
Internet service was interrupted Thursday, then returned by Friday morning, at least in some areas. But it went out again later in the day, groups that monitor internet access reported.
Alp Toker, director of London-based Netblocks, said the blackout in internet service on Thursday and Friday appeared different from an internet outage that occurred soon after Ian hit.
“Internet has been cut again in Cuba, at around the same time as yesterday,” Toker said in an email to AP on Friday night. “The timings provide another indicator that the shutdowns are a measure to suppress coverage of the protests.”
Doug Madory, director of internet analysis at Kentik Inc., a network intelligence company, earlier described Thursday’s event as a “total internet blackout.”
Repeated blackouts on Cuba’s already fragile grid were among the causes of the island’s largest social protests in decades in July 2021. Thousands of people, weary of power failures and shortages of goods exacerbated by the pandemic and U.S. sanctions, turned out in cities across the island to vent their anger and some also lashed out at the government. Hundreds were arrested and prosecuted, prompting harsh criticism of the administration of President Miguel Diaz-Canel.
The government has not said what percentage of the overall population remained without electricity as of early Friday, but electrical authorities said only 10% of Havana’s 2 million people had power Thursday.
Experts said the total blackout showed the vulnerability of Cuba’s power grid and warned that it will require time and sources — things the country doesn’t have — to fix the problem.
Authorities have promised to work without rest to address the issue.
Calls by AP to a dozen people in Cuba’s main cities — Holguín, Guantánamo, Matanzas, Ciego de Ávila, Camagüey and Santiago — found problems similar to those in Havana, with most reporting their neighborhoods were still without electricity.
Authorities say the total blackout happened because of a failure in the connections between Cuba’s three regions — west, center and east — caused by Ian’s winds.
Cuba’s power grid “was already in a critical and immunocompromised state as a result of the deterioration of the thermoelectric plants. The patient is now on life support,” said Jorge Piñon, director of the Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy’s Latin America and Caribbean program at the University of Texas.
Cuba has 13 power generation plants, eight of which are traditional thermoelectric plants, and five floating power plants rented from Turkey since 2019. There is also a group of small plants distributed throughout the country since an energy reform in 2006.
But the plants are poorly maintained, a phenomenon the government attributed to the lack of funds and U.S. sanctions. Complications in obtaining fuel is also a problem.