Maracuchos Live in Darkness and Extreme Heat, No Solution in Sight

“Hell on Earth” is how Maracaibo residents describe the city undergoing a terrible electricity crisis, unthinkable in any other modern nation. And you know what the government will do about it: absolutely nothing.

Photo: Panorama

Maracaibo used to be the coldest city in the country, even with temperatures above 35° C. The reason? Everywhere you went, the air conditioners were at full force. That equipment’s not a luxury, but an imperative necessity.

Now, with blackouts that can last up to 14 hours, Maracaibo is hell on Earth.

Living without power goes against human development. The western areas of the city are the most affected, with power cuts that started at four hours a day, then eight, then nine and now 14.

With blackouts that can last up to 14 hours, Maracaibo is hell on Earth.

Journalist Mariella Navas says she can’t rest, spending the day caring for home appliances, power regulators and food, and since work depends on internet connection, her whole life now hangs on the electrical cord. There are no points of sale and electronic transfers are out of the question, so she can’t pay public services either. She can’t even read the news. She’s isolated without electricity.

Ravaged on four sides (July 13 to July 16)

On Friday, July 13, the protector for her fridge caught fire, but the flames didn’t touch the cables. The appliance was saved because she immediately switched the breaker.

Her neighbor wasn’t so lucky. She lost several appliances last month, including the fridge and microwave. Now her life is upside down, because if she can’t buy a candle in Maracaibo, which costs about Bs. 1,000,000, she’s far from fixing her equipments.

Mariella has to walk block after block under the crushing sun to work. She can’t get a bottle of cold water because if stores don’t have their own power plant, they only sell stuff at natural temperature.

On Monday, July 16, she got home in the afternoon, with no time to charge her cellphone. The power was cut at 7:00 p.m. “I waited for it to return at 11:00 p.m. We’re having dinner then, always something simple. I’m always sleep-deprived. I’m 31 and I feel like 50.”

They get water every two days, four days a week.

The same goes for the rest of the week in the Raúl Leoni neighborhood, Francisco Eugenio Betancourt parish. There’s nothing to do until the light bulbs turn back on.

“I had to melt a big candle my mom gave me for Christmas, to get some light at night. We can’t buy or prepare food. Water’s already failing, because three out of the four pumps that supply us from the Hidrolago system are already busted from the blackouts.”

Now, they get water every two days, four days a week. When she gets home at night, her neighbors are sleeping in the condo’s hallways. Women, the elderly and children bundle together in mattresses and improvise fans to keep everyone cool.

“This isn’t new, but it’s gotten worse in the last eight months. Two months ago, a neighbor died. He was very ill and he needed an oxygen machine. There was an eight-hour blackout and he died.”

Navas said that, in her area, there’s people who require dialysis treatment and they’re taken to other communities where there’s electricity so they can get their treatment.

Her mom’s not so lucky. She lives in the Jesús Enrique Lozada sector, outside Maracaibo, spending two or three days straight without power. Her house is surrounded by trees that hold off the heat, but it’s been a while since she drank a glass of cold water. She only eats eggs, mortadella and beans, the only food she can afford to keep without energy.

She suffers from hypertension and the heat can sometimes reach 40 °C.

Punishments vary (July 16 to July 19)

Not even hospitals are safe from the debacle.

From July 16 through 19, power cuts varied between four and five hours (they’d increase to eight hours). “Corpoelec Maracaibo does this in turns. One week is low frequency, the other, the punishment’s worse.”

Everyone in Maracaibo suffers the blackouts, and not even hospitals are safe from the debacle. Gas stations suffer two blackouts a day, ruining pumps that are militarized since 2011, allegedly to prevent fuel trafficking.

Now, those who own a car and want fuel have to spend five hours in line, or pay smugglers a million bolivars for 40 litres.

As if this weren’t enough suffering, Mariella had to buy cash a few days ago. She hadn’t seen her mom in two months, so she paid three million bolivars by transfer for one million in cash. It was Bs. 80,000 to her family’s place.

Utter shamelessness

Electric Energy Minister Luis Motta Domínguez, who visited Zulia in the first half of July to deal with the electricity problem, claims that recurring blackouts in Maracaibo are caused by a failure of a transmission line.

The worst is, he doesn’t know exactly how many hours the rationing will take. “It could be four, six or eight hours,” a statement that angered Maracaibo citizens.

Mariella isn’t ready for being without food, water, transport and now energy. The only safe bet is that this won’t end until the government changes.

For now, she sighs, getting ready for her weekly punishment.

Mabel Sarmiento

Mabel Sarmiento is an UCAB-trained journalist with more than 20 years' experience covering community news, the environment, health, education and infrastructure.