Rural Areas in Zulia Have It Worse Than Maracaibo

Machiques de Perija and the Guajira are the areas affected the most by the blackouts, as most of the region has been more than 20 days without electricity. This will result in more economic contraction and more violent protests.

Photo: Johandry Montiel retrieved

Caretaker President Juan Guaidó and his team are now in Maracaibo, as announced during a meeting with public employees in Parliament on Monday, April 8, in response to the plight of citizens who feel abandoned by the opposition amidst the electric crisis which has affected this region the most, with far longer blackouts.

But while all press attention is focused on Maracaibo, other municipalities are doing far worse, even since 2018.

After the first blackout on March 7, there were sectors in the Guajira that had no electricity for 20 days and until the first week of April, before the most recent nationwide blackout on March 9, most schools remained closed even after the Education Ministry resumed the school year. According to parents, school principals couldn’t even offer an estimate on when the institutions would reopen.

The Guajira is a shared region between Venezuela and Colombia and is inhabited by the wayúu people. A couple of decades ago, Colombian Guajira natives migrated to Venezuela en masse fleeing the war. Today, the flow has reversed: Venezuelans are the ones who flee because of conflicts between criminal gangs -including Colombian guerrilla groups-, the economic crisis and the lack of basic services like water or healthcare.

The situation’s gotten worse with the blackouts. The region’s inhabitants pray for rain because there’s no water supply, partly because of the lack of electricity, and buying water is too expensive. Meanwhile, some hospitals don’t have power plants, and the lack of supplies has intensified since January, according to Guajira’s Human Rights Committee.

In 2018, Governor Omar Prieto announced a few plans to solve the electric crisis in the region, such as activating Guajira’s Wind Farm, but that never happened. “Now they want to deny that the government made a significant investment,” said chavista lawmaker Eduardo Labrador before Zulia’s Legislative Council on March 13, demanding to know what happened with the resources to build this and other stations. After his complaint, he was expelled from PSUV.

Failing livestock farming

Machiques de Perija is the center of livestock farming in a state known for its oil. The opposition’s calls for protest rarely have any impact in this area but, on Saturday, April 6, when Guaidó called for the first step of Operation Freedom, the situation got out of hand and turned violent, as the National Guard repressed protesters, leaving dozens of people affected by tear gas, at least five arrested and a severely injured minor.

This is the reaction citizens have had to their little known tragedy. For instance, citizens have to climb over the roofs of their homes to get mobile signal. Charging a phone in a store may cost up to $5, and the few stores that remain open either have their own power plants or rent them. “We have to work, we can’t stay at home resting,” said a vendor. “We have to turn this around somehow.” Cash shortages are worse than ever and most card readers are offline, so buying food is almost impossible.

But one of the worst consequences of this situation is that 200,000 litres of milk spoiled in March, according to Machiches’ farming sector, because 80% of farms don’t have their own plants to refrigerate milk tanks. Milk and meat shortages will worsen in coming weeks not only in Machiques, but in the nearby municipalities these farms supply, Maracaibo is one of them, where dozens of butcher’s shops were looted in March.