Fidel’s energy obsession

Dan Grech Dec 1, 2006

Fidel’s energy obsession

Dan Grech Dec 1, 2006


SCOTT JAGOW: Tomorrow, Cuba celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution. December 2, 1956, was the day Fidel Castro landed on Cuba’s eastern shore in a yacht named the Granma. You may not be aware of this, but 2006 has been a year of revolution in Cuba. A very different kind of revolution. From the Americas Desk at WLRN, Dan Grech explains.

DAN GRECH: Jorge Piñón was watching Cuban TV earlier this year.

President Fidel Castro appeared on screen with a Chinese-made pressure cooker.

JORGE PIÑÓN:“And on national television, he was telling people how many cups of rice you had to put into how many cups of water and how you had to cook the rice so it won’t be sticky, so it will be fluffy. It was extremely bizarre. Again I’m talking about a head of state telling us how to cook rice.”

Piñón is a Cuba expert at the University of Miami. He says there’s a method to this madness. Castro calls it . . .

PIÑÓN: “El Ano de la Revolución Energética. That means, The Year of the Energy Revolution.”

Castro’s on a kick to save energy.

Pressure cookers use less power than the stovetop, but the revolution doesn’t stop there. Castro’s importing energy-efficient fridges, TVs and air-conditioners from China. And he’s recruited battalions of students to go house to house installing fluorescent bulbs.

Kirby Jones is president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade Association. He says this fits into a pattern.

KIRBY JONES:“He does get a bee in his bonnet. And he gets on certain kicks and he follows them personally and through his leadership the country follows suit.”

In 1970, Castro mobilized the entire country to grow 10 million tons of sugar. He even took to the cane fields himself. That didn’t work.

Then in 1982, a Cuban cow, La Ubre Blanca, produced 241 pounds of milk on a single day, a Guinness world record. But attempts to breed other supercows went sour.

Castro’s latest kick is to solve Cuba’s problem with rolling blackouts.

But Jorge Piñón says Cuba doesn’t have the money to repair or replace its decaying power plants. So Castro came up with another solution.

PIÑÓN: “He has bought about $800 million worth, I repeat the number again, $800 million worth of small generators.”

Piñon has a nickname for this do-it-yourself approach.

PIÑÓN: “The Home Depot strategy. And that is where he has bought thousands of small generators and distributed those generators across the country to bakeries, pharmacies, schools, hotels. So that in the event that the major power plants come down during the blackouts, all those businesses can function and turn on their generators.”

While this band-aid approach draws ridicule, another front of Castro’s energy revolution has the U.S. worried:

Cuba has up to 9 billion barrels of oil off its coast. Firms from Venezuela and China are drilling wells, but the U.S. is shut out.

From Miami, I’m Dan Grech for Marketplace.

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