HAVANA – Fuel shortages once again are triggering long lines at service stations across Cuba, whose inhabitants also have been struggling in recent days to purchase basic hygiene products such as detergent and toilet paper.
The supply of diesel and gasoline to the Communist-ruled island has been occasionally unsteady since September, when authorities said new US sanctions were hindering the arrival of tankers transporting those products from Venezuela.
But the crisis has escalated sharply since late last week.
In contrast to the end of 2019, the Cuban government thus far has refrained from issuing any communiques about new measures or restrictions, although managers of some service stations are telling customers they only have limited amounts of fuel per day to sell to individuals paying in cash.
Once those supplies are sold, those people must wait until the following day because the remaining supplies are reserved for users of state vehicles and other entities that use prepaid cards.
Based on information circulating on WhatsApp groups, the supply shortages are particularly acute in the eastern part of the Caribbean island, where Cuba’s second city, Santiago de Cuba, is located, but they are also affecting many motorists in the capital.
“My tank was full. Today it ran out. I’m almost empty and I have no choice but to wait in line. If I don’t get gas, I can’t work. Unfortunately, that’s how it is,” Francisco, a taxi driver waiting in line at a service station in Havana, told Efe.
President Miguel Diaz-Canel said last September that the country was facing a temporary energy crunch due to US sanctions aimed at preventing shipping firms from transporting fuel to the island from Venezuela, Cuba’s main supplier and an oil-rich, leftist-led country where the US is trying to effect regime change.
The energy shortages particularly have affected supplies of diesel, prompting Cuba’s government to announce a series of fuel-saving measures, including public transport cutbacks and a reduction in the amount of diesel assigned to state-owned organizations and companies.
A month later, Diaz-Canel said the most critical phase of the fuel-shortage crisis was over and that the island was able to meet 62 percent of its requirements, although he added that “tensions” would likely remain in some sectors.
In recent months, Washington has imposed new, economically debilitating sanctions on Cuba in retaliation for the island’s alleged interference in Venezuela’s political crisis and its unconditional support for leftist President Nicolas Maduro.
Since taking office in January 2017, President Donald Trump has terminated the historic US-Cuba thaw embarked upon by his predecessor, Barack Obama. Among other things, the Trump administration has cut staffing at the US Embassy in Havana and tightened the longstanding economic embargo by barring cruise ships from traveling to the Communist-ruled island from American ports.
Cuba’s cash-strapped government, meanwhile, has been prioritizing purchases of fuel and food, leading to shortages of other goods, especially hygiene products.
A statement from the Domestic Trade Ministry on Saturday stated that supplies of products such as soap and toothpaste will be insufficient to fully meet customer demand through the end of March but that an adequate supply of those goods should be available once again in April.
Toilet paper and laundry detergent have been among the items most difficult to find on store shelves. Due to these shortages, long lines have formed when those products are available and buying limits have been imposed on customers to deter hoarding and resale.
The output of Cuba’s domestic industry, made up almost exclusively of state-owned companies, has been insufficient to meet national demand. The chief problem is the island’s lack of hard currency, which makes it difficult to replace obsolete machinery and import raw material in sufficient quantity.
The government blames the six-decade-old US embargo for this situation, saying it forces Cuba to look to distant markets for replacement parts and other inputs.