Guarenas is Thirsty

Minor riots erupted around Guarenas last night as people's patience with water shortages runs out.

Guarenas last night

For the second time during the Maduro era, guarimbas blocked main avenues and side streets at at least two spots of downtown Guarenas: all along the Martín Vera Guerra avenue (where I live) and also in Torreón, a few blocks to the west.

The protest began at around 8:00 pm on Thursday, February 11, when understated cacerolazos started ringing out in various spots of Menca de Leoni, which Chávez decided in 2007 to rename 27 de Febrero in honor of the “Caracazo”, a 1989 uprising that began in Guarenas which chavismo sold as a heroic demonstration of indignation against neoliberalism. The government’s celebration of those riots now looks like crude irony as the most important pro-government bastion near Caracas has taken to the streets to demand water and electricity service be restore.

It’s not unprecedented. We saw similar protests just a few months ago, on October 6, 2015. After that first protest just ahead parliamentary elections on 6D, Guarenas had almost a constant supply of water. Right after the elections and the opposition victory, the city was left without water for the whole of December, even through the holidays.

This area was built and officially opened during Raúl Leoni’s term (1964-1969) and is named after his wife, Carmen América, better known as Menca. Since then, and despite breathless promises of urban renewal by the government since 2003, the buildings have more or less like they’ve always been for more than forty years.

That means old and dirty reservoirs, no pumps to help water reach the apartments and very old piping that’s already massively breaking down in some buildings. Unless there’s a serious problem, though, water usually reaches parking lots through public hoses which people can use to replenish their stores by filling and carrying buckets.

Except everything is a serious problem in Venezuela. There hasn’t been any water at all for almost two consecutive weeks.

So Guarenenses decide to block streets and avenues in protest and, at 10 pm the Mayor’s office (which has been an even less conspicuous ornament under Rodolfo Sanz than it was under Freddy Rodríguez) sends a single tanker truck as a consolation prize to help cool the mood.

The gambit mostly works. Some of my neighbors form a line with buckets to fill and carry to their homes. The National Guard and the Police finally appear when a vehicle is set on fire in a nearby shopping center at around 11 pm and a group of people attempt and fail to break into a few shops. The fire brigade deals with the burning vehicle, some barricades still block the streets and public transportation, but it appears the unrest subsides for the time being.

At around 11:30 pm, though, National Guard officers on motorcycles decide to patrol the now empty streets, shooting at the buildings with both non-lethal and lethal ammunition. These are the same tactics they’ve been using since 2014, how they’re supposed to help has never been clear. No major disturbance was taking place. Could it be that they’re trying to sow disorder in hopes of a more severe situation? 

At midnight, sporadic detonations still burst out around Menca, and some people still shout from the buildings, but the protests are over. However, it’s not like the water problem will improve any time soon. People still wait in huge lines to buy whatever they can find, and power outages will only intensify as the weeks pass.

These riots might, unfortunately, become commonplace and far harder to control. Let’s just hope that this thirsty Guarenas, that this thirsty Venezuela, get a sip of much needed fresh water to continue the struggle against a crisis that’s taken so much of the country’s strength and morale.