– “Gasoline? Imagine, 50 years fighting with it, I don’t even want to smell it anymore!” says Sixto González, showing off his shiny blue electric quadricycle with which he travels at about 40 kilometers per hour through Havana, where the fuel is scarce and public transport is a pain.
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Motorcycles, tricycles and electric cars are increasingly dotting the urban landscape of the Cuban capital, dominated until now by old American cars from the 1950s and the Lada compacts from the Soviet era.
With a price of between 4,000 and 8,000 dollars, the quads have become the illusion of many Havanans tormented by the difficulties of transportation.
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The last time Sixto filled the tank of his combustion car with diesel, he waited eight hours in line. This 58-year-old retired taxi driver is fortunate to own, in addition to the quadricycle, one of the 600,000 combustion cars that circulate on the island, where 11.2 million people live, according to official figures.
Out of luck, many Cubans opt for a motorcycle or an electric tricycle, often used as a taxi or for cargo. In an old Soviet truck assembler in disuse, in the central city of Santa Clara, is the Minerva plantwhere most of these bikes imported from China or Vietnam are now assembled.
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Among the noise of automatic screwdrivers, a hundred workers assemble and paint the electric vehicles, which advance embedded in production rails.
The goal is to make 10,000 motorcycles this year, says Elier Pérez, director of Minerva, whose maximum annual production so far has been 5,000. Rows of tricycles ready for sale are stored in another area of the warehouse. They are part of the 2,000 three-wheeled vehicles planned for this 2022, says Pérez.
Between 40,000 and 50,000 electric motorcycles currently circulate in the country, according to the authorities. “I had to buy it because the oil ran out, and queues and queues (…) are endless and I said: ‘No, I’m going to buy something because I have to move,'” explains Raúl Suárez, riding in his new electric vehicle.
This type of transport is “solving quantity, it is a good initiative,” says Suárez, a 52-year-old security employee. Three years ago the government began to promote the use of electric vehicles, introducing them in state companies for their personnel.
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“Cuba is a rolling museum,” with a large number of cars that “are 35 years old,” laments Guillermo González, director of Engineering at the Ministry of Transportation. With electric cars, “fuel consumption of both diesel and gasoline will decrease and at the same time we reduce pollution,” adds the official.
Motorcycles and refrigerators
Public transport is also an ordeal. About 50% of the buses are out of operation “due to lack of tires and batteries.”
Havanans sometimes wait hours to board a bus trying to get to their jobs. For the government, the priority is public and freight transport for the distribution of food, assures this official.
But there are many obstacles due “to the blockade that has been imposed on us, which does not allow us to buy parts, does not allow us credits“, explains González, referring to the US embargo against the island that has lasted six decades.
People crowd into endless queues pining for gasoline, and finding diesel in recent weeks is a triumph.
The problem comes from 2019, when Washington tightened sanctions, blocking the arrival of Venezuelan tankers. Oil supply plummeted from 100,000 barrels a day to about 56,000 on average in 2021, explains Jorge Piñon, a Cuban energy policy expert at the University of Texas.
To this is added the deficit in electricity generation for almost a month due to failures and maintenance work in thermoelectric plants in the country. To supply this missing electrical energy, the authorities resort to generator sets, equipment that runs on diesel, allocating most of this fuel to that end.
“We have never seen a situation as precarious as the one we are in today and we still have three months of a hot summerPinon warns.
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However, the director of strategic policy of the Ministry of Energy, Ramsés Calzadilla, assures that this deficit does not prevent the operation of electric vehicles.
“We could say that an electric motorcycle is very similar to a refrigerator” in terms of consumption, says Calzadilla, optimistic that the thermoelectric plants will soon recover and Cuba will have enough light.
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