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Cuban Government Trials Fuel Reform

Since people buy black-market gas to supplement limited state supply, a pilot project will see fuel on sale legally.
By Carlos Rodríguez, Laura Paz

The Cuban authorities are piloting a scheme to allow domestic cooking gas to be sold freely in the shops, instead of distributing it only under the rationing system used for a range of basic goods. 

At the moment, people are entitled to two cylinders of liquefied petroleum gas, LPG, a year from the state, paying a subsidised price of around seven pesos, less than one US dollar, for each canister.

As part of the “Energy Revolution” launched in 2006, the government gave each household an electric stove, a rice maker and other cooking equipment, the idea being to wean them off gas.

In tandem, it drastically reduced the number of gas cylinder refills provided under the state rationing scheme to just one every six months, a minimum level designed for times when extreme weather conditions prompt power cuts.

However, householders like Ana González say electricity prices are so high that they use LPG most of the time.

“It’s better to buy a ‘balita’ [cylinder] of gas when [the old one] runs out than to do everything with electricity, like cooking or heating up water for bathing,” she said.

The World Bank estimates that last year, Cubans spent over 160 pesos a month on electricity, or almost 40 per cent of the average wage.

The scheduled gas distribution is often delayed, and the six-monthly allocation was never intended to cover constant use in any case.

People therefore resort to buying extra LPG cylinders on the black market at high prices.

Havana resident Elena Álvarez believes the “Energy Revolution” was a failure.

“Because of the government’s brilliant brainwave, people now have to buy a balita of gas at 140 pesos [six dollars],” she said.

Álvarez said a friend who works for the state gas distributor told her that the reduction happened “because there wasn’t the capacity to supply the population”.

The government appears to have realised that its attempt to get people to change their behaviour has failed, so it might as well try making gas available at commercial prices.

Deputy prime minister Marino Murillo Jorge, who heads an economic and social policy committee has announced that Isla de la Juventud, an island off the coast of mainland Cuba, has been chosen to pilot the project this year.

The authorities will “experiment with free sales of gas in government shops at unsubsidised prices, and without affecting [rationed] quotas”, Murillo said, in remarks quoted by the Juventud Rebelde newspaper.

The head of Office for Rational Use of Energy, Tatiana Amarán Bogachova, has confirmed that sales of gas on the open market are being piloted.

Alberto López lives next to a gas distribution centre in Arroyo Naranjo, part of Havana, believes that the fuel is not really in short supply; reduced rationing has merely encouraged theft by state employees.

“I see cylinder distribution trucks that are completely full. Every two days they come and restock, but most of it goes on the black market,” López said.

Carlos Rodriguez is the pseudonym of an independent journalist based in Havana. Latin America ... Laura Paz is an independent journalist in Cuba.

Carlos Rodriguez is the pseudonym of an independent journalist based in Havana. Laura Paz is an independent journalist in Cuba

This story was first published on IWPR’s website

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