Photos: Mario Pérez
Maracaibo is usually tender with its citizens between January and March. The weather becomes agreeable for a port city, with gentle trade winds descending from the north end of the hemisphere, blowing like a balm, spreading such wellbeing that we can forget about the nine remaining months at 45°C under the shade.
Well, not anymore.
In 2018, the electricity crisis has blasted the Zulian lifestyle and unraveled long held traditions like the short nap after lunch. If there’s no power, the humid heat and the mosquitoes erase the very thought of ever sleeping again.
Nanet Artigas, who works in the costume jewelry business, leaves her home every day in a quixotic quest to brave the windmills of hyperinflation. She has to visit four shops in different corners of the city to get the materials she needs, but she may find upon arrival that they’re closed or, worse, that the point of sale isn’t working because there’s no electricity.
If there’s no power, the humid heat and the mosquitoes erase the very thought of ever sleeping again.
Moving through any street in Maracaibo, the most attentive and least likely to fall for political dilemmas could see that the problem isn’t just about lack of State maintenance and investment, it’s about insidious opportunism, criminals who take advantage of the night. They’ve acquired a new skill: Climbing electric poles and cutting the wiring to extract the copper and sell it in junkyards at the border with Colombia.
That’s why the kindergarten Cardenal José Humberto Quintero, located in the Zulia neighborhood of El Marite, northeastern Maracaibo, has been the target of wire robberies twice in less than a year. The place has a population of 177 children between three and five years old. The municipal school council forces them to care for the children under threat of administrative penalties if they refuse to open, even though the classrooms are in a sorry state, with no air conditioning or ventilation, and sans running water because hydropneumatic pumps can’t work without power.
In this kindergarten, teachers have to teach their students out in the halls under a zinc ceiling that looks like palmita cheese, full of holes.
No one can escape power rationing in Zulia.
Service stations, traffic lights, shopping malls, movie theatres, bakeries, butcher’s shops, the general market, schools, homes; no one can escape power rationing in Zulia. Right after the April 19 debacle, governor Omar Prieto claimed that 90% of the electricity service had been recovered. Rationing resumed two days later.
Some time later, Lisandro Cabello, secretary of Zulia’s Governor’s Office, said that the electricity crisis could be resolved in 60 days after they’d installed some turbine generators coming from Carabobo. Within a month, in late May, Cabello once again talked about the crisis, saying that one of its causes was that the Earth was now closer to the sun.
Meanwhile, Lorena Gutiérrez, not her real name, waits outside her shop waiting for the power to return, as she knits tablecloths to keep herself busy and channel her repressed anger, which she eventually lets on: “These government people don’t know the time bomb they’ve got on their hands. They won’t have any more excuses when it blows, because it will blow up in their faces.”Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported. Support independent Venezuelan journalism by making a donation.