In one of the scenes from the movie “Camelot,” the queen sings to the king the question, “What do the simple folk do?”
He answers, “They whistle.” Well while President Daniel Ortega boasts that Nicaragua will soon be 96% self sufficient in electrical needs, he seems to have forgotten about the simple folk here in Puerto Cabezas, in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN).
The electrical problems here have gone from bad to worse—and now it’s time to blow the whistle. For the past four months the electricity has been off most of the time. It was off all day yesterday (June 26) and then came on late in the afternoon, just to go off again at 9 p.m. Then it came back at 11 p.m. and went off again at 3 a.m. It was off all day today, June 27, and finally came back on at 2:45 p.m. It has been like this for the past four months
So what do the simple folk do? We grumble. It is hot with no fans. The constant surges stress out our electronic equipment. We have had to replace the refrigerator, fix the computer and repair the TV because of fried components. We have missed the endings of countless TV shows.
People talk, rumors abound. I have been told there is not enough bunker fuel to keep the generators running. I’ve also heard that the private operators of the power plant want more money than our local government is willing to pay for energy. Another rumor is that the new power lines are less than 50 miles from Puerto Cabezas, but the local authorities can’t settle on a price for the completion of the lines and the delivery. I’ve also been told that the line is going up north to the Waspam and will bypass Puerto Cabezas altogether.
So yesterday I went to the source and took pictures of the power plant. They invited me in and gave me a tour. According to Arturo Chamorro, president of Grupo ACI-ACN, the power needs of Puerto Cabezas have doubled since 2005. They have installed two new generators that are the same as the ones in Managua and are planning to run tests on them this week in hopes of getting them on line by July 15.
These two new generators will double the megawatt output in Puerto Cabezas. Currently, the demands cannot be met with the six generators they have. So they are doing rotating blackouts during peak time. The power line from Managua will not be here until 2014.
All of this seems like good news, but here in Port we take a wait-and-see approach. Many folks here do not trust the Sandinista government and won’t believe the promises until they see it with their own eyes.
Puerto Cabezas is a community of Miskitu and Creole peoples.
Neither of these groups was treated well during the war in the 1980s, and the hostility remains. The National government ignores this area and one cannot help but assume it is racism.
The other issue is privatization of electricity. Everywhere in the world that has privatized electricity has seen prices go up and quality of service go down. The price of electricity here has skyrocketed over the past year, and at the same time the purchasing power of the Cordoba is dropping, which makes poor people poorer.
The previous government sold these plants to the Czechs. Now the ownership is based in Miami, Florida.
Port could be a beautiful tourist area. A tourism industry would provide employment and stimulate the economy. However there are many issues that need to be resolved first. Port could be the garden of Eden, but without electricity and clean water, that is but a dim dream.
Port will never be a place where any business or industry will locate without a reliable electrical system. It is doomed to be a community of displaced and marginalized people until the power problem is resolved. And that’s only the first step.
Deborah Elliott and Don Gibson are Overseas Personal with the United Church of Canada. They are currently working in Puerto Cabezas where Deborah is the pastor of the First Moravian Church (Creole). Don works as an administrator at the Doris Robb Gaby School. They have been in Bilwi since 2009.