Daily life has become increasingly difficult for the average Cuban. Shortages of food and electricity, a deteriorating transportation and health system, and a drastic decline of basic services provided by the state are creating tense conditions that could lead to increased social unrest.
The provision of basic public services has
been woefully inadequate, and has noticeable repercussions on daily
life in Cuba. Even the very homes that many Cubans live in are a testament
to their struggle to survive. The housing situation, particularly in
urban areas, is abysmal. The problem is twofold: there is an acute housing
shortage in Cuba, and many of the living quarters that do exist are
in notably poor condition. It is presently estimated that there is a
deficit of 1,600,000 dwellings on the island.(1)
One of the most pervasive and notorious shortcomings
in public programs is the inconsistent electrical service. The phenomenon
of apagones, or blackouts, is part of everyday life. The frequency
of these blackouts is disconcerting; in 1995, 297 days of the year saw
some interruption in the electrical service.(11) In the darkest hours
of the post–Soviet “Special Period,” the Cuban government
began modifying its power plants to use domestically produced petroleum,
which contains elevated sulfur content that is highly corrosive. As
a result, the plants are shut down approximately every three months
for maintenance - much more often than plants burning cleaner fuels
- to counteract the effects of the sulfurous fuel oil.(12) For instance,
one Cuban plant was slated for a maintenance shutdown of twenty-nine
days to prepare for the heightened summer demand.(13) Presently, about
ninety percent of electricity is produced with Cuban crude. (14)
The system of water distribution is also in
serious disarray and has proven unable to satisfy the needs of the Cuban
population. According to the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources,
the Cuban government ministry overseeing water concerns, virtually all
urban Cubans (98.3 percent) receive water service. Of these, the vast
majority, or 83.5 percent, have a connection within the home, with another
14.8 percent having easy access to water, a technical term which implies
a water source within 300 meters of the home.(19) Despite these impressive
numbers, the reality of water provision in urban Cuba is a very different
one. One Cuban government water official anonymously confirmed a common
estimate that Havana loses approximately 30 percent of its municipal
water supply to leaks.(20) This unfortunately is not a problem that
is limited to the capital. Leakage in water systems is a tremendous
concern throughout Cuba, with leakage rates ranging from 13.3 percent
in Pinar del Rio to 30 percent in Manzanillo and Camagüey to an
alarming 42 percent in Santa Clara.(21) This creates a situation where,
as a result of these leaks, the amount of water extracted far exceeds
the actual need simply to overcome waste and satisfy demand. A report
from the Inter American Development Bank listed Cuba as having a ratio
of water withdrawal to water availability of over ten percent, which
is recognized as an indicator that the water supply is inadequate, signaling
a need to either increase supply, limit usage, or both.(22)
Even securing basic medicines is often a Herculean
effort in Cuba. Reports abound concerning the lack of aspirin, antibiotics,
multivitamins, and other pharmaceuticals. Leaders in Havana point to
statistics concerning number of doctors and consultations as proof of
the outstanding coverage of the Cuban system. For instance, in 2002,
there were over 76 million doctor visits or approximately 6.8 per capita.(26)
Unfortunately, these numbers actually tell very little about the reality
on the ground. For instance, patients may receive a prescription from
their doctor, which is valid for a week. With the acute shortage of
medication, the pharmacies usually do not carry the necessary medicines,
and when shipments do arrive, the pent up demand often ensures that
they are gone quickly. As a result, many must return to their doctors
every week to have a valid prescription ready in the event that a shipment
1. “Cuba, un eterno huracán,” Miguel Cabrera Peña, Encuentro en la Red, www.cubaencuentro.com, Sept. 7, 2004.
2. “Revolution vs. Globalization – Cuba,” John Ripton, New Internationalist Magazine, March 2003.
3. “Cuba, un eterno huracán,” 2004.
4. Ashby, Timothy, “Cuban Real Property – Current Laws and Future Prospects,” Real Estate Law Journal, Vol. 33, 2004.
5. Programa de Desarrollo Humano Local – Cuba “Caracterización y prioridades del Municipio de La Habana Vieja: Líneas Directrices para la III Fase del Programa de Desarrollo Humano Local,” 2000 www.undp.org.cu/uunn/pdhl/LDHVieja.doc
6. Modelo de Intervencion para la Vivienda, www.onu.org.cu/pdhl/fichas/habana/43-modelovivenda.pdf
7. “40 años de la vivienda en Cuba,” Instituto Nacional de la Vivienda, La Habana, 1999.
8. “Scarcity, desperation define Cuba housing,” Herald Staff Report, Miami Herald, January 3, 2000.
9. “Cuban housing a tight squeeze: many complain prime land targeted for tourists,” Ginger Thompson, Chicago Tribune, August 16, 1998.
10. “Cuba, un eterno huracán,” 2004.
11. Oficina Nacional de Estadísticas, “Estadísticas Energéticas 2002.”
12. “Cuba retrocede una década por la crisis eléctrica,” Gerardo Arreola, La Jornada, October 4, 2004.
13. “Explican medidas para enfrentar los problemas en el suministro eléctrico,” Granma, September 30, 2004.
14. “Return of scheduled blackouts is actually a relief,” Dalia Acosta, Inter Press News Agency, September 30, 2004.
15. “Explican medidas para enfrentar los problemas en el suministro eléctrico,” Granma, September 30, 2004.
17. “Return of scheduled blackouts is actually a relief,” Dalia Acosta, Inter Press News Agency, September 30, 2004.
18. For more on the food situation in Cuba, see “Food Security and Nutrition in Cuba,” Cuba Focus No. 47, September 11, 2003, Institute of Cuban and Cuban American Studies, University of Miami.
19. Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)/CEPIS, Assessment of Drinking Water and Sanitation 2000 in the Americas, 2000. Available at: www.cepis.ops-oms.org
20. “Water scarce in areas of Havana,” CubaNet News, April 1, 2004.
21. PAHO/CEPIS, 2000.
22. San Martín, Orlando,“Water Resources in Latin America and the Caribbean: Issues and Options,” Inter American Development Bank, February 2002.
23. PAHO/CEPIS, 2000.
24. “Fourteen city neighborhoods have no water service,” Victor Rolando Arroyo, CubaNet, June 18, 2001.
25. “Deplorable el sistema de acueducto y alcantarillado en Santiago de Cuba,” CubaNet , September 22, 2004.
26. Anuario Estadístico 2002, Oficina Nacional de Estadísticas.
27. See “Faltan las vitaminas en La Habana,” CubaNet, April, 20, 2004.
28. “For Cubans, a bitter pill: Castro’s health care system is paid for through onerous taxation and cannot provide even basic drugs,” Isabel Vincent, National Post, July 7, 2004.
29. “Cuba swelters as blackouts, crisis persist,”
Gary Marx, Chicago Tribune, October 6, 2004.
*Eric Driggs is Humanitarian Aid Coordinator at the Cuba Transition Project at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami.