Photo: Redacción Médica retrieved

José Miguel won’t be able to submit his thesis this year, and he won’t graduate as an architect. That was one of his main goals for 2019, because he’s working on the possibility of leaving Venezuela with a diploma, but he’s failed due to an electric crisis that’s especially cruel in Western states like Zulia, where citizens scarcely have six hours of power, despite the rationing plan of 12 daily hours implemented by the authorities.

A semester at the Rafael Urdaneta University, in Maracaibo, costs Bs. 990,000 (almost $160 at May’s black market rate) while the integral minimum wage is Bs. 65,000. The institution lacks a power generator, so the dynamics between students and teachers went to hell since March, with the first nationwide blackout. Classes are scheduled via WhatsApp or Twitter at best. They’re brief, with poor attendance.

“I don’t ask for power to get the air conditioning running,” says a frustrated José Miguel. “I just want to work on the computers.”

University classes are scheduled via WhatsApp or Twitter at best. They’re brief, with poor attendance.

A specific problem he has is directly related to the blackouts: he can’t find a place to print some plans. “I was so angry, I cried. The professor refused the digital versions.”

That’s what Zulian university students have suffered in recent weeks without energy: the hours and quality of classes have decreased and teachers usually make up for it by sending online homework, which some students can’t deliver because the region’s connectivity sucks. Those who can attend classes have to do so without air conditioning in a city where temperatures can reach 40° C.

Some universities have been forced to extend their courses. In the Cecilio Acosta Catholic University, the extension was short, starting in early February with an original end in mid-April, going on instead until May.

“The university extended the semester for three weeks, as a chance for students affected by blackouts to catch up,” says Dennis Reina, a journalism student. “When things began stabilizing, we had power but no internet, so we still couldn’t work.”

LUZ without luz

The University of Zulia (also known as LUZ) always stood out for two reasons: the quality of its teachers and their constant strikes due to poor salaries and the constant decay of an institution that was once one of the best universities in Latin America.

Now LUZ has no energy. In relatively normal times, during the protests, the university opened for at least half a day, but that’s not possible anymore. According to José Barboza, student leader at LUZ, rector Jorge Palencia has written to the recently created Energy Bureau to request new rationing schedules in the area, so that students and teachers can work at least in the morning. Perhaps he’s been ignored, among other things, because the university publicly recognized Juan Guaidó as caretaker President of Venezuela.

Now LUZ has no energy. In relatively normal times, during the protests, the university opened for at least half a day, but that’s not possible anymore.

“They’re trying to cut academic content,” says José Meléndez, Mechanical Engineering student. “We frequently get homework, but we can’t do it without power. In Physics II, we have to measure the tension and amperage of electric currents with a multimeter and that requires electricity. How can we practice our theory?”

Although the national electric emergency started in March, it’s been hitting Zulia since 2018. A little over eight months ago, a section powering LUZ’s Experimental Sciences and Veterinary schools malfunctioned, and the issue hasn’t been solved.

University education is shutting down

During the protests of 2014 and 2017, amidst the chaos and tear gas rolling through the halls, Zulian universities kept their classrooms open to continue the academic year with a semblance of normalcy. The 2019 blackouts finally broke that discipline.

José Meléndez, potential engineer of the republic, concludes the interview with a broken voice of helplessness: “I’m worried about other states leaving Zulia alone. People in Caracas aren’t living this, this rationing isn’t applied in many states. They’re acting as if nothing is happening. But the blackout never ended here.”

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