Cuba’s rural towns are hit hard by fuel shortages

MARIEL, Cuba — Rosa López, a 59-year-old housewife, lit a coal stove to boil sweet potatoes and prepare scrambled eggs for her grandchildren. The gas cylinders she normally uses to cook her meals have not been available for nearly two months in Mariel, a port city west of Havana.

Not far away, on the Pinar del Río highway and under a scorching sun, Ramón Victores spent a week waiting in line at a gas station, hoping to fill up the red 1952 Chevrolet he uses to work, transporting products from one city to another. another.

Cuba’s most recent fuel shortage has crippled an already fragile economy, but it’s hitting rural villages particularly hard, with residents resorting to charcoal fires to cook their food, scrambling to find transportation to get them to work. and spending days – and nights – at the gas station waiting to fill up.

The Associated Press traveled to a dozen villages in Artemisa and Mayabeque provinces, east and west of Havana, to talk to people about how the fuel shortage is affecting their lives everyday life and what they are doing to avoid another crisis.

With food and medicine already in short supply in an economy badly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, the end of the country’s two-currency system and the tightening of US sanctions, the lack of fuel and cooking gas is seen by many Cubans. in the countryside of the island like the drop of water.

López, Mariel’s housewife, has been using coal and firewood to cook her meals since the government suspended the sale of gas cylinders more than a month ago. A coupon system in place now arranges delivery of the precious cooking gas, but López is the 900 number online and doesn’t know when she’ll be able to get her hands on it.

Rosa Lopez lights a charcoal stove to cook food for her grandchildren, amid a gas shortage in Mariel, Cuba, May 18, 2023. Ramon Espinosa / AP

About 50 kilometers (30 miles) east of Mariel, on the road to Pinar del Río, a group of small vehicles joined a long line of tractors and other farm equipment at a gas station waiting their turn to fill up, with a long wait for up to a week.

Manuel Rodríguez, a 67-year-old gardener, waited in line for four days, hoping to refuel his dented motorbike. But instead of just the three liters needed to fill it, he found an ingenious way to take advantage of the 10-litre maximum allowed per user: he attached a 10-litre plastic tank to the frame of his blue motorcycle. , acknowledging that the craft may not be precisely the safest way to travel.

“It’s a bit dangerous,” he said, showing off his invention. “But it works !”

The lack of fuel also makes it harder for people in small villages to go to work and travel to nearby towns. María de la Caridad Cordero, a 58-year-old teacher in Güines, Mayabeque province, was waiting to be taken to Jagüey Grande to visit her brother.

“If I don’t find anything before noon, I’ll go home and try again tomorrow or the day after,” she said.

In the end, after two hours at the side of the road, unsuccessfully waving money to entice sporadic drivers to pick her up, she and a dozen other villagers hopped on a yellow school bus that drove up. is suddenly abruptly stopped.

Back in Mariel, López and her family said they found temporary relief in a small plot of land where they built a charcoal stove and grew fruits and vegetables. Yet there are basic food items that are still hard to come by.

“There’s no cooking oil at the bodega,” she says. “Hopefully we’ll have some tomorrow.”


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