Sweating Is Not For Cuba’s New Rich
14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 20 June 2017 — The passenger complains
of the heat while frantically moving the fan. “In a few days I will
install an air conditioning,” justifies the taxi driver and adds that he
will charge “higher fares.” In summer everyone dreams of
air-conditioning their rooms or vehicles, but whether or not one suffers
the heat depends on the pocketbook.
In 2013, after eight years of prohibition, the government authorized
travelers to import air conditioners, electric stoves, refrigerators and
microwave ovens. It was the starting shot for an avalanche that invades
the airports, the port terminals and the shipping agencies to Cuba.
“Six ‘splits’ (air conditioners) came on that flight,” said an employee
of Terminal 3 at José Martí International Airport in Havana. The plane
from Cancun, a route greatly appreciated by the mules, also brought a
dozen flat-screen TVs, eight minibars and two desktop computers.
Among the boxes that are piled around the luggage belt are the units
that will be placed inside rooms and others that will be placed on a
roof or an outer wall, a cruel irony, because in the main airport of the
country travelers complain about the heat and drip fat beads of sweat
while waiting for their suitcases.
“It is difficult to know the number of AC units entering each day,” says
the employee. “It is rare that a flight arrives from Panama, Mexico or
any other nearby country that comes without at least two devices.” In
the lines to pay for overweight luggage and the import of domestic
appliances one sees the new arrivals loaded with bundles.
Permanent residents in Cuba, national or foreign, can import two air
conditioners of up to one-ton capacity on each trip. On the first
occasion only – over the space of a year — they pay tariffs in Cuban
pesos at a price ranging from 150 to 200 CUP (roughly $6 to $8 US). For
additional imports they pay that amount in convertible pesos (CUC –
roughly $150 to $200 US).
The business is booming. Even paying in CUC the traveler can resell a
one-ton air conditioner on the black market for about 650 CUC, for a
device that originally cost less than 350 dollars. The brands that enter
most frequently are Midea, LG, Carrier, Royal, Daewoo and
Prestiger. Prices have fallen by up to 30% since the imports were
authorized and given the volume of supply that trend will continue.
State stores try to compete with the “under the counter” sales but have
higher prices, fewer models and shortages that make the supply unstable.
The air conditioners have slowly been incorporated into the landscape of
cities and towns. If before the economic relaxations they were installed
discreetly, now with a more open economy the tendency is to exhibit them.
“The people living there have cash,” says Igor, a pedicab driver who
waits for his clients in the vicinity of the Plaza de Carlos III. While
pedaling and showing some parts of the city, the cyclist glances at
these signs of families with money. “Wherever there is an air
conditioner they are affluent,” he muses. Not only does acquiring one of
these devices mark membership in a social group, the most difficult
thing is to pay for its operation.
Much of the electricity supply remains subsidized. “The average monthly
consumption in the residential sector in 2013 was approximately 180 KWh
per customer,” said Marino Murillo. For that amount a consumer pays
36.60 CUP, “while the cost to the state is 220 CUP,” said Cuba’s vice
Keeping a one-ton air conditioner on all night can trigger electricity
consumption above 400 CUP monthly, the entire salary of a
professional. However, many families decide to do so, overwhelmed by the
heat or because they want to rent rooms to foreigners.
“Air conditioning and hot water cannot be lacking in this business,”
says Rocío, who operates a colonial hostel in Trinidad with his
mother. With three rooms for rent, each with AC, minibar and television,
the entrepreneurs pay a four-digit electricity bill. They consider that,
even so, it “brings in business” in an area with a high occupation rate
throughout the year.
In November 2010, a new progressive electricity rate began to be
imposed, which imposes a penalty of up to 300% on households that
consume more than 300 KWh per month, a situation that has triggered
An engineer from the Electricity Company in Havana told 14ymedio about
the new ways in which citizens seek to steal electricity. Before there
were “visible” cables that were easy to detect or they tampered with the
meters in a way that technicians noticed right away, but now they
conspire with the workers who repair the streets and get the cables
In 2013 the Cuban government authorized travelers to import air
conditioners, electric stoves, refrigerators and microwaves. (J. Cáceres)
The specialist says that there are “people whose homes abut state
entities and they steal electricity from a company, a warehouse, a
carpentry workshop or even a polyclinic.” He says that almost always “it
is a cases of people who have some highly customer-based business, like
an electric oven to make pizzas, a body shop, a private restaurant or a
lot of air conditioners.”
The engineer recalls a family in which “even the youngest children had
AC in their room and left it on all day.” A neighbor reported the
situation when he learned that they paid a very low electricity
rate. The complaint brought the inspectors and they discovered that the
meter was tampered with. In addition to the fine “they had to pay
retroactively all that they owed.”
To counter fraud, analog meters were replaced by digital ones and in
some areas of the country they are being changed again for new ones with
infrared technology. But the tricks are inexhaustible.
“The upstairs neighbor lives alone and is retired, and he passes the
cable with electricity to me and in return I also pay for his
consumption,” says a prosperous entrepreneur who runs a coffee shop on
Zanja Street. “So I share the consumption and it’s not as expensive”
because it prevents all the kilowatts going on a single account with the
consequent progressive surcharge.
The customer has three air conditioners installed throughout the
house. “Without this you can not live here, because this house hardly
has windows to the outside and the kitchen of the business generates a
lot of heat,” he explains. He bought the devices in the informal market
and is waiting for them “to lower prices a little” to buy a room.
“It is not the same to be Cuban with a fan as it is to be a Cuban with
AC,” he reflects. “The first one is irritated but the second is less
stressed because he has air conditioning.”
Source: Sweating Is Not For Cuba’s New Rich – Translating Cuba –