Business & Economy

Fuel shortages lead to blocks-long lines outside Cuban service stations

By Juan Carlos Espinosa

Havana, Apr 5 (EFE).- Roberto Peña, a 50-year-old Cuban, and his wife slept last night in their car, waiting in a long line of motorists that started at an out-of-service gas station in Havana and stretched for several blocks.

On Wednesday at noon, their position in line was exactly the same.

He drove to the Cuban capital from Camagüey (a city 500 kilometers – 310 miles – to the east) because his wife had a visa interview at the United States Embassy.

“I didn’t find (fuel) anywhere on the highway. We have to wait to get gasoline so we can (make the trip back),” he told Efe.

The plight is the same for motorists throughout Havana and increasingly outside the capital in recent days as well: service stations without fuel, long lines of vehicles and exasperated people enduring the ordeal with a mixture of anger and confusion.

“We’ve been waiting here for three days, and no one tells us anything. There’s no information. I have two kids. There are customers who tell me if I don’t drive them they’re not going to call me again. It’s not easy,” a 33-year-old chauffeur who asked not to appear on camera told Efe.

His new friends – ones he has made while waiting and sleeping in the line – are in the same predicament.

“Cubans have to save everything. They freeze their food, and if there’s no work, you have money saved. That’s how we’ll manage (given the impossibility of operating his taxi),” another motorist explained.

But not everyone is suffering from a lack of fuel. At one service station in the downtown Havana neighborhood of Vedado, a man stepped out of a classic blue car and started pumping gas.

“We’ve been in this situation for three or four days,” an attendant at that station said. Asked about the man who was able to fill up his tank without waiting in line, he said, “if you have a letter from the government, then you can.”

The worker was referring to people whose duties are regarded as essential and who have special permission to access any available fuel.

Communist Party daily Granma said Sunday (in an article no longer available on its website) that the Havana provincial government had implemented measures to address “the situation created by the lack of supply of diesel to private carriers.”

It also added that the amount of fuel assigned for motorists performing essential activities would be readjusted at four service stations in the capital, without specifying which ones.

Because Cuba is only a small oil producer, it depends on fuel imports from abroad and its two key suppliers are experiencing major difficulties: Venezuela, which is mired in a years-long crisis, and Russia, currently locked in a more than year-long war with Ukraine and under sanctions by the West.

The decades-old US trade embargo and Washington’s inclusion of Cuba on its list of countries that are state sponsors of terrorism also make it difficult and costly for Havana to gain access to fuel.

Speculation about the causes of the shortages are now prompting much discussion in the Cuban capital.

A group of taxi drivers – all of whom have slept in their cars for the past three days – say they are accustomed to these types of situations occurring at least once a year.

“What upsets me more is that they don’t explain what’s happening,” one of them complained.

While they were talking among themselves, an old convertible passed by carrying a pair of blonde-haired tourists wearing Cuban fedoras.

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