Charcoal cooking, long queues for gasoline: Fuel shortage hits the countryside of Cuba

MARIEL, Cuba — Housewife Rosa López, 59, lit a charcoal stove to cook sweet potatoes and scrambled eggs for her grandchildren. In Mariel, a port city west of Havana, the gas cylinders he usually uses to cook his meals have been unavailable for almost two months.

Not far from there, on the highway to Pinar del Río, on a hot day, Ramón Victores spent a week in line at a gas station, hoping to fill up the red 1952 Chevrolet that he uses for work, transporting goods from one town to the other. to another. another.

Cuba’s recent fuel shortage has crippled an already fragile economy, but it’s hitting rural villages particularly hard, with residents turning to charcoal fires to cook their meals, finding transportation to get them to work, and spending days — and nights — in rural villages. gas station waiting to fill up with fuel.

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

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With an economy badly damaged by the COVID-19 pandemic, the end of the country’s two-currency system and the tightening of US sanctions, with food and medicine already in short supply, many Cubans are experiencing shortages of fuel and cooking gas. in the countryside of the island, like the last straw.

López, a housewife living in Mariel, has been using charcoal and firewood to cook meals since the government suspended the sale of gas cylinders more than a month ago. The introduced coupon system now organizes the delivery of the precious cooking gas, but López is at number 900 and doesn’t know when he can get his hands on it.

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

Manuel Rodríguez, a 67-year-old gardener, waited in line for four days, hoping to fill up his battered motorcycle with fuel. But instead of settling for just three liters to fill up, he came up with an ingenious way to make use of the maximum 10 liters allowed per user: he attached a 10 liter plastic tank to the frame of his blue motorcycle. , recognizing the artifice may not exactly be the safest way to travel.

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

The lack of fuel also makes it difficult for residents of small villages to get to work and move around neighboring towns. María de la Caridad Cordero, a 58-year-old teacher in Güines, Mayabeque province, was waiting in Jagüey Grande to visit her brother.

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

Finally, after standing by the side of the road for two hours, waving money around and unsuccessfully trying to persuade sporadic drivers to give him a ride, he and a dozen other villagers hopped on a yellow school bus that screeched to a sudden stop.

Marielben López and her family said they have found temporary relief in a small plot of land where they have built a charcoal stove and grow fruit and vegetables. However, there are some basic foods that are still difficult to obtain.

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“There is no cooking oil in the bodega,” he says. “Hopefully we’ll get one tomorrow.”