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.

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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.”

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24 COMMENTS

  1. “The municipal school council forces them to care for the children under threat of administrative penalties if they refuse to open”…

    Chavistas, no doubt?

    FUCK THEM. Let THEM open the schools and let THEM care for the children. They are the ones infatuated with the revolution and how well it works.

    And the administrative penalties? Like what? Harsh words? A demerit? Hold back advancement for a year? A cut in pay???

    What a joke. These administrators should be on the front line advocating for the kids, the schools and the parents who are seeking an ACTUAL education for their kids, and instead all they have are excuses and threats.

  2. Electrical power plants require lots of ongoing maintenance. And one if the biggest factors in reliably distributing power to the grid is … Having an electrical grid!

    This is a very good article that shows just how important vital public services/utilities really are.

    I think I recall an article not that long ago,that indicates there are less than 500 “new” or even fully serviced power transformers in VZ.

    For the entire country!

    Local power generation can help mitigate some issues, but how do you get electricity to a building with no wires?

    And backup generators don’t run on Chavismo… They need fuel and maintenance as well.

    Copper thieves are making a bad problem much worse.

    • Copper thieves are a dime a dozen, the REAL problem are the chatarreros. A vast mafia who are operating freely, paying whomever they need to pay to keep on doing what they are doing. I’ve got a couple of them on my block, you take one out and 3 more pop up. Every week the big one on my block receives about 1 cubic meter of cash to pay the copper thieves for the copper they scrounge every time the power goes out. That and they also pay directly with crack. That’s right, crack for copper…a hell of a deal! I’ve seen all police groups collecting their vaccines from that chatarrero. They pay well to stay in business. About a year ago one of them who lived half a block away decided he wasn’t going to pay what the state police wanted so they came by in broad daylight and whiped everyone out with automatic weapons. It sounded like a war zone as the chatarrero vigorously defended himself until he ran out of ammo, then a short period of silence, then several pistol shots as they executed him and the people that were there at the time (his son and wife were not). A couple of weeks later everyone was back to business as usual. The official word was that it was a rival gang but I know for a fact that it was the state police.

      • Marc,
        Just for information, you can’t translate “vacuna” literally. It is a Venezuelan metaphor which is not used in English. You can say “I’ve seen all police groups collecting their protection money …”. “Collecting their vaccines” suggests only that they were picking up pharmaceutical products. No disrespect intended.

  3. “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….”

    Lady, you are part of the problem. The bomb should have gone off LONG ago. What is it that you are waiting for?

  4. Look on the bright side. Venezuela is doing its part to help the planet heal by reducing its carbon footprint. And it seems to me that XXI century socialism provides the perfect political environment for creating a world-class showcase for all the benefits of “renewable energy”.

    Why not invite the best and brightest renewable energy experts from all over the world to Venezuela? I am sure they would love to show off their technical skills by solving the crisis with windmills and solar panels.

    • This got a chuckle out of me.

      I own a few properties. One is a hunting shack that has NO electricity or other power source other than a solar collector and a windmill (DC) that I pull out from storage when I get there, if I need it. My house is on a geothermal heat pump, and my heating/cooling is paltry. The lake cabin has permanent solar/wind, but is on a grid that sells it to the local co-op, and I get a credit each month that makes my bills a wash.

      Politically, I am libertarian (socially liberal, fiscally conservative)

      Yet who howls the loudest about clean energy… but never does it themselves? The political lefitsts! The people I know who have energy saving “green” homes are conservatives… who are doing what they can to keep their own money! They might care about carbon footprints, but in reality, it is doing the right financial thing that keeps these people into their wind/solar and energy saving antics.

      iViva Capitalism!

    • Look on the bright side. Venezuela is doing its part to help the planet heal by reducing its carbon footprint.

      As about 70% of Venezuela’s electricity comes from hydroelectric sources, the reply is “Not so much.”

    • There is wind energy on Paraguaná Peninsula (25-30 mph) -it’s in the trade winds. (I remember all the trash (3000 plastics bags) all gather on west side , with the weed also leaning to the west). But in VZ (LOL).

  5. Not to mention all of the vehicles that are off the road. Every man, Jack and his dog bought a motorcycle when Chavez brought them in cheap from China. About 250 bucks each at first until the military started taking their cut up front for the privilege of buying one. Now one by one they are breaking down and being taken off the road. Guess that is what happens when you can’t afford to put oil in your engine. Used oil is even scarce. People cannot afford to drive anymore period. Thats why even the pros that make a living of it can’t keep their wheels turning anymore. Not that parts and things (batteries, tires, etc.) are not available, because they are, you just have to pay close to international prices and in dollars most of the time. Some things are still relatively cheap like Chinese motorcycle parts but at 70 million for a chain and sprocket, not many people are able to buy it. And thats what I find most people haven’t actually grasped is that it’s not the dollar that’s going up, it’s their Bolivar that is devaluing and their power of acquisition is going down. A fair price in these peoples minds is a highly subsidised price.

    • Marc,
      Those are socialist motorcycles. No warranty, no service plans, no guaranteed parts availability, no nothing. They got what they paid for. Just like Venezuelan voters got what they voted for.

  6. There is much talk about the brain drain, rightfully so. But what makes this particular brain drain so terrible, and maybe unprecedented, is that those who haven’t fled will get spotty and terrible education. And that is not just those in the barrio, but those basically everywhere except the super rich.

    The kids and families and teachers are too hungry, or too busy trying to survive, to focus on education and let alone higher education. Teachers are fleeing, buildings are unusuable, supplies are non-existent, diseases will proliferate, etc.

    I can’t imagine the future. This place will make fricking Cuba look like paradise…

    • I remember laughing at this in 2016!

      What always rubs me the wrong way…how every report gets its wrong…is how they attribute Hugo’s poverty reduction expenditures being made possible because of high oil prices, and collapse of those prices created the problem.

      They keep forgetting how much he borrowed and gave away (Cuba, etc.) DURING the period of high prices.

      • What always rubs me the wrong way..is how they attribute Hugo’s poverty reduction expenditures being made possible because of high oil prices, and collapse of those prices created the problem.

        They refer to 1998 as the base year with UNACCEPTABLY HIGH POVERTY, the year of $11 oil and the year El Finado was elected. Well and good. The Venezuelan electorate, in electing El Finado, certainly judged the Fourth Republic on how much dosh it could distribute with $11 oil.

        But poverty is much greater in 2018 in Venezuela, with oil selling from ~$50-$80.
        From the IMF:
        Venezuela_Gross domestic product per capita, constant prices_Purchasing power parity; 2011 international dollar
        1998 $15,651.35
        2013 $17,980.52
        2018 $9,261.78

        You don’t need the GOV to give you poverty stats to conclude that poverty in Venezuela is much higher today with $50-$80 oil than it was in 1998 with ~$11 oil. The per capita income figures make it obvious.

        According to the IMF, Venezuela’s 48.4% decline in per capita income from 2013 to 2018 is the second worst in the world. Yemen is the worst, a country whose civil war is funded by Iran, one of Maduro’s buddies.

        Fuel Exporters 2013-2018 change in per capita income
        Libya -27.6%
        Qatar -16.8%
        Kuwait -13.6%
        Brunei Darussalam -10.4%
        Trinidad and Tobago -9.0%
        Oman -5.9%
        Angola -5.0%
        Azerbaijan -3.8%
        Nigeria -3.5%
        United Arab Emirates -1.9%
        Ecuador -0.2%
        Iraq 0.5%
        Saudi Arabia 0.6%
        Russia 0.9%
        Norway 3.9%
        Algeria 5.7%
        Kazakhstan 6.4%
        Gabon 6.9%
        Mexico 8.3%
        Colombia 8.5%
        Bolivia 15.5%

        Venezuela is clearly the outlier.

        Colombia’s fuel exports of coal and oil accounted for 57% of its export income in 2013.

  7. Straight out of the marxist playbook. After expropriating the assets comes liquidation. Don’t think PDVSA isn’t experiencing the same total collapse. It’s all cut from the same cloth alongside depopulation, default, and destruction.

  8. First the regime failed to plan for the need for enough new plants to cover an increased demand , then it failed to maintain those plants it did have causing them to experience breakdowns , then the situation was made worse by the wholesale breakdown in law and order which has caused the proliferation of facility dismantling mafias protected by national guard accomplices….. but there is a fourth cause seldom mentioned .

    Only about a third of the consumption is met with electricity from far of Guri , the rest has to be met via the use of thermoplants which required to be supplied with gasoil , fuel oil produced by local refineries , as Venezuelas crude production has plummetedt these refineries (in themselves already operationally downgraded by lack of maintenance) are no longer capable of producing the fuel and gasoil needed to keep those thermoplants going , the net effect are the power cuts aflicting the life of the zulianos …..

    • El Pueblo is expecting someone else to do the dirty work once the bomb goes off. Not them.

      “Somebody will save us. Maybe we can get a Christmas pernil once the new improved Government is in power?”

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