In Zulia, Blackouts Are Splintering Chavismo
The ruling party used to be quite disciplined, particularly under pressure. But the collapse of the nation’s power network is damaging Maracaibo so much that some local lawmakers started a rebellion against the imposed governor.
Photo: Panorama, retrieved.
On Wednesday, March 13th, an incident took place at the Legislative Council of Zulia State (CLEZ), a chavismo-controlled institution that usually meets to approve or support Maduro’s decrees. That day, former PSUV lawmaker Eduardo Labrador demanded that Electric Energy Minister Luis Motta Domínguez be removed from office, calling him “irresponsible, incompetent and negligent,” after the blackout that started on March 7th and lasted for over 100 hours.
Labrador also suggested that governor Omar Prieto’s administration had engaged in corruption by requesting state resources in 2018 to activate power plants such as Termozulia 1, 2 and 3, which were going to supply the region and are practically out of order right now. He proposed the creation of a committee to investigate what happened with those investments.
This wasn’t taken well: when Council chairwoman Ángela Fernández told him he had one minute left to talk, he retorted that it was actually 20 minutes; an argument broke out, including screams and knocks on the table until he left the room.
An argument broke out, including screams and knocks on the table until he left the room.
Labrador isn’t just any lawmaker: he used to be Council chairman himself and, when Prieto became governor in 2017 after opposition leader Juan Pablo Guanipa refused to swear his oath of office before the ANC, he appeared as one of his closest and most loyal allies.
Part of his job was touring healthcare centers in Zulia to deny the crisis or blame the opposition for sabotage, in a state where hospitals don’t have water and kidney patients constantly block streets to protest for the lack of supplies. Now, however, he’s been interviewed on radio and TV by formerly prominent opposition figures in Zulia, like former governor Pablo Pérez and Juan Carlos Fernández, who ran for mayor of Maracaibo in 2017, for Un Nuevo Tiempo.
Hours after the incident, Labrador announced along with other chavista lawmakers, that they’d create a new “left-wing” faction within the CLEZ to “continue being the voice of the people.”
On April 2nd, they amped up their complaints by issuing a statement, denouncing that, during the third blackout in Zulia (the fifth nationwide) officials from the Governor’s Office and the Mayor’s Office of Maracaibo, San Francisco and Lagunillas municipalities allegedly rented luxury rooms in 5-star hotels.
The signatories urged the Zulian Parliament to open an investigation to know who paid for the rooms. They also promised to take this case to the National Assembly, controlled by the opposition and headed by Juan Guaidó.
This is a new milestone in Prieto’s short, but controversial career as governor of Zulia, even after accusations of human rights violations.
“While the poorest suffered monstrously for the lack of electricity and water, rotten food and heat, these so-called revolutionaries were wasting money in luxury hotels,” says the statement, signed by other seven chavista leaders.
This is a new milestone in Prieto’s short, but controversial career as governor of Zulia, even after accusations of human rights violations and confrontations with former chavista big shots like Rodrigo Cabezas, former Finance minister and his political mentor, and Francisco Arias Cárdenas. In 2018, Prieto blamed Cárdenas for the electric crisis, citing his “negligence” in the management of power plant projects.
After Labrador and his peers voiced their complaints, Prieto said they were expelled from the PSUV, claiming they “excluded themselves” by choosing the wrong side of history, in a moment where the revolution requires “maximum loyalty.”
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