Photos by the author.
Since Thursday, March 7th, day one of the blackout, the plant that provides electricity for the emergency wing at JM de los Ríos Children’s Hospital in Caracas has presented failures. Since then, there have been no new admissions. The hospital is offering limited treatment for 72 children only, the lowest rate in the hospital’s history. Ramón, a 32-year-old father, stares directly at the emergency entrance as we talk. “I’ve been waiting here since 8:00 am,” he says. “First they told us there were no doctors available. We waited. Then they told us there were no lights to work. We waited. My baby is four months old. She has intense diarrhea. So far, there’s nothing they can do. My baby is inside with her mother and I can’t go in. The National Guard officers and the militia are here and they don’t let the doctor speak with us. We can’t reason with them. We are told to wait, so we wait. We are used to it by now. But we can’t wait forever.”
CORPOELEC, the public electric company, has provided the hospital with three power plants since Friday morning, but none of them have been able to function properly and provide enough energy to power specialized treatment. Since Thursday, there’s been no chemotherapy, ventilation for neonates, X-Ray or tomography.
The hospital is offering limited treatment for 72 children only, the lowest rate in the hospital’s history.
On Saturday morning, CORPOELEC installed a new plant but later reported that it wasn’t working because of stolen parts. This led to an upgrade in their security support. But it seems they’re not there to protect the hospital from thieves. “Currently we have the National Guard, militia, FAES and colectivos guarding the hospital. We are actively recommending the press to stay away from it, after many violent situations that have taken place againts the doctors since the blackout started,” says a member from NGO Prepara Familia who wishes to remain anonymous.
Meanwhile, parents and sick children wait under crude circumstances. “My son is five years old. He has breathing problems, but doctors can’t figure out what it is. I’ve been coming here, every day, for the past three weeks. The last four days have been hell. We have to wait forever to get answers from no one. They have been trying to help with the worst emergencies, but the rest of us just have to wait,” says Nerly as tears run down the dark circles below her eyes.
While she speaks, a female National Guard officer comes running towards me: “I told you to leave,” she yells. I remind her she only asked me not to enter the premises, which I didn’t. Then, two tattooed men dressed as civilians come stand behind her: “We’re gonna look for you, we’re gonna find you and we’re gonna rape you,” says one of them, as he gets closer to me. Meanwhile, the officer took pictures of me and threatened to detain me if I kept talking to anyone close to the hospital. “This hospital works perfectly, stop spreading your vicious lies, lying cunt. Why don’t you leave, like your kind did long ago?” says the man. “We’ll make you leave, you’ll see.”
“Aren’t you ashamed of what you do, liars?” Nerly asks directly to both men, with a low, shy, almost defeated voice, but with both eyes on them. They repeated this dynamic twice until I was forced to leave. “You can’t hide what’s going on with violence anymore. What’s happening is far scarier than you are.” I say as I walk away. “We can hide whatever we want, however we want. You’ll see how scary we can be.”
Meanwhile, not far from where I stand, the GNB tries to stop people from getting water from the Guaire river, even though most of them haven’t had running water since Thursday. Colectivos scared national and international press until they were forced to leave. Later that night, we heard about journalist Luis Carlos Díaz’s forceful and arbitrary detention on his way home. The only effort security forces are doing for now, as far as people can tell, is blocking the access to information and to alternative solutions people may find amidst the collapse.
The only effort security forces are doing for now, as far as people can tell, is blocking the access to information and to alternative solutions people may find amidst the collapse.
“Everyday we’ve had donations trying to enter the hospital through different NGOs. We’ve been denied access, even though there’s a known and special protocol for catastrophic events like this,” says Prepara Familia. “This morning, a truck came with medical supplies. The militia didn’t let them inside. It was a mess. Mothers screaming, angry fathers. It’s like shit hits the fan once a minute, and everyone has to wait a million minutes to get out of this,” says Ana, a cigarette seller around the area.
Since day one of the blackout, the hospital’s director Natalia Martinho Santos has continuously stated that they have the necessary electric power and supplies to continue the hospital’s operations. “This is a lie. There’s currently no functioning plant, no appropriate food, no active equipment, and no available laboratory,” says Prepara Familia.
At Caracas University Hospital, one of the two power plants broke down two days ago. “With everything that’s going on, I think the biggest problem we’ve had this morning is lack of personnel. Doctors didn’t come, neither did the nurses. They are stuck at home, without electricity, transport, money, food. The few of them that came are acting like inhuman robots. They don’t allow the patients to use the toilets because there’s no water. I’ve seen how patients shit and piss themselves,” said Raquel, the daughter of a 80-year-old dialysis patient who hasn’t been able to proceed with his treatment due to the absence of trained personnel.
“Doctors tried to save my fingers, but I know I’ll lose them. I need to be supervised daily, while doctors are stuck at home and nurses don’t know how to handle this,”
Francesco shows me his wounds. “I got burnt with my stove. They were going to amputate two fingers, but then they realized a bacteria was spreading through the skin. They decided to attack with antibiotics. I came today, but no one can see me. I’ve waited for four hours, but it hurts like hell. I’m going home. Tomorrow, I’ll come back to wait some more. Doctors tried to save my fingers, but I know I’ll lose them. I need to be supervised daily, while doctors are stuck at home and nurses don’t know how to handle this,” he continued as he sold me cigarettes in exchange for Colombian pesos.
Up until today, March 13th, seven days after the blackout began, Julio Castro, the head of Doctors for Health, a network of medical providers that surveys Venezuelan hospitals, reports that 27 people have died since the blackout started last Thursday, in 24 hospitals and health centers.