Caracas Stopped at the Edge of Mayhem… For Now

After more than 80 hours without power, groups of people at the normally dangerous Venezuelan capital city began to protest and some incidents of looting took place. Security forces managed to avoid the violence from spiraling, and just then the power came back.

Photo: La Razón retrieved

During the first days of the national blackout, Caracas, which has been in a chronic state of conflict for several years, was relatively quiet for one of the most dangerous cities in the world. The Venezuelan capital isn’t used to power outages, unlike the far more vulnerable interior of the country, but due to the blackout, some places spiraled into chaos as the hours passed.

No riots requiring the presence of security forces had ensued since lights went off on March 7th until March 9th. The crisis caught citizens flat-footed and, uncertain of how long it would last, everyone initially focused on trying to get supplies.

After more than 70 hours without electricity, grocery stores and supermarkets that had their own power plants began to run low on stocks. However, most people could do nothing, with empty fridges and no cash in their pockets. Without electricity, there’s no way to pay for stuff, points of sale and banking platforms fail, just like telecom systems, plus some stores charged dollars, euros or Colombian pesos. Anything but bolivars.

The crisis caught citizens flat-footed and, uncertain of how long it would last, everyone initially focused on trying to get supplies.

“I have no food at home, we’re desperate, if only the power were restored,” yelled Eugenia Díaz, outside a bakery, whose owner was also charging in dollars. “The meat I had rotted, I went to buy a bag of ice and they charged $3,” said a woman, alarmed by the situation. “I can’t make sense of what’s happening, this is crazy, I’m sad with what’s going on, all of those people who are sick waiting in their homes,” she added, showing the egg carton she’d managed to buy.

Time went by and there were no answers, so people from the slums rose up. In areas such as Las Mayas, barricades were put up and there were rumors of looting. The Coche popular market, one of the most important street markets in the city, is just a few blocks from the place.

Anger filled the void left by disinformation and the uncertainty on whether power would be restored. While the population tried to survive the emergency, groups of people took to the streets on Saturday 9th and Sunday 10th and descended upon several stores.

They came from Santa Cruz del Este, Baruta municipality, Southeastern Caracas, at nearly 6:00 p.m., and slammed the gates of a warehouse located in La Pedrera street, belonging to the Central Madeirense supermarket chain. They also broke into the Pirámide and Humboldt malls and attacked a few stores.

People were taking pictures and recording videos from nearby buildings which quickly spread through social media. Police officers repressed looters with tear gas and National Guard arrested 70 people, mostly teenage boys and young women. They said their children were hungry, as a way to justify their actions.

This Monday, March 11th, it was revealed that five people had been injured with broken glass during the looting in Baruta.

Many shop owners in the area didn’t open their doors for fear of looting. Also, some areas in Baruta remain in the dark, due to the explosion of nearby transformers, which once again pushed people to the brink.

While the violence coursed through Baruta, power was intermittent in some areas of Libertador municipality, but still there were similar episodes in San Martín, Santa Rosalía and along the Baralt and Andrés Bello avenues.

There are no verified figures of how many cases of looting took place in this part of the city. There’s talk of a thrift shop, a supermarket and a liquor store. Shattered glass in the main avenue of San Martín is the vestige of vandalism. The neighbors in these areas had been protesting against the blackout and the lack of water for a couple of nights, and then violence broke out.

There are no verified figures of how many cases of looting took place in this part of the city.

The only way to find out about the looting was through social media and WhatsApp videos and pictures. Meanwhile, the National Guard and other security forces, such as the regime’s secret police (SEBIN), the scientific police (CICPC) and the National Police were patrolling the neighborhoods with anti-riot equipment, seeking to intimidate protesters into silence; people still have a fresh memory of the horror of Special Action Forces (FAES) brutally repressing anyone who protested against the Maduro regime in January, leaving a balance of 35 people murdered in demonstrations, according to the Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict.

When this article was written, Wednesday 13th, over 80% of Caracas had electricity. However, despair and anguish are common in the faces of citizens. It’s not just the impossibility of acquiring food, but also the lack of water. The regime offers no accurate information about how and when the electrical collapse will be resolved. Instead, they spread rumors of permanent power rationing, while Maduro insists on his narrative of anti-imperialist resistance and tells people to buy flashlights.

Mabel Sarmiento

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