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Crippling fuel crisis turns Cuba to old friend Russia

Cuban taxi driver Jorge Lloro is reminded of his nation’s historic ties to Russia every time he gets behind the wheel of his navy blue, Soviet-era Lada.

His boxy Russian-made car is one of an estimated 100,000 that were imported to the Caribbean island during the Cold War.

Over the years, the fleet of Ladas arrived in Cuba as a means around the decades-long US economic embargo on the island.

Now, amid a crippling fuel crisis and a dire economic outlook, the island’s leadership has again turned to its old ally, Russia, for help.

For Jorge, it’s been a constant struggle to keep his car on the road – spare parts are scarce and expensive. Now, even filling the tank with petrol has become a days-long ordeal.

At the height of the crisis, the queues of cars at the petrol pumps stretched for several city blocks.

Eventually, the state had to organise the hordes of waiting drivers into WhatsApp groups. A state employee would take down your contact details and issue a number. When it was eventually your turn to fill up, you’d be contacted to come to the garage.

“I’m number 426,” explained Jorge as he drove us to a petrol station in Havana, having received an alert.

At the garage forecourt, though, no petrol was flowing after the tanker failed to arrive. “I don’t know why they even told us to come,” complained Jorge.

“This system is inefficient and ineffective,” echoed another driver, Joel Hernandez, who was expressing the exasperation of everyone in the queue.

“We’re not allowed to fill an entire tank, people often miss their number or aren’t informed when it’s their turn. It lacks proper organisation and infrastructure.”

For weeks, the fuel crisis has pushed the beleaguered Cuban people to the brink of desperation.

It’s the latest in a series of major challenges they have faced recently: food insecurity, inflation and electricity blackouts.


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