The Great March Blackout Never Really Ended

When chavismo talks about “things returning to normal” regarding energy, it means “normal in Caracas.” Most of the nation suffers daily blackouts that freeze people’s lives, institutions and erodes their minds. This is how you live with a broken infrastructure.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons, retrieved.

Talking to my better half the other day (we’ve been working things out), it became obvious: for chavismo, there’s a Venezuela that matters, and another one that might as well die.

See, Adriana is right now in Táchira with her folks, and when the power goes out, all mobile networks go out. “You have no idea,” she says. “The whole thing is random. Sometimes they cut power at nine in the morning, sometimes at three in the afternoon, sometimes at four. It’s like, you get blocks of energy, six with energy and six without. “Yesterday,” she told me on May, 16th, “power died at ten in the morning, it was back at three for an hour, and it was gone again till six in the afternoon.”

And this happens every. Freaking. Day.

I remember the feeling of isolation and post-apocalyptic survival during The Great 2019 Blackout, before things got somewhat okay again in Caracas. But, talking to my partners at Caracas Chronicles, you see how the blackout ended at the capital, but in the other 90% of the territory it’s there to stay.

“In Mérida,” Juan Carlos Gabaldón tells me, “the energy crisis began in 2009. Since then, we had a ‘blackout season’ between May and June, which went to hell after March 7th. We had a couple of weeks with power cuts of 12 hours. Now we get 18, 20 hours of power daily. Completely random, there’s a schedule but it’s just a graph.”

It became obvious: for chavismo, there’s a Venezuela that matters, and another one that might as well die.

“I remember when we had cuts just a few hours in the morning, or just some at night,” says José González Vargas in Maracay, one hour away from Caracas. “Now we get power cuts every day, for half the afternoon. When you fall into the flow of things, you adapt and start to plan ahead, you buy candles, charge your phone, you store water. But the worst part is emotional. All my friends are on the internet nowadays, and I can’t work, can’t talk to them, and the power goes out and you don’t know how long it’ll be. I truly believe something inside of me finally cracked with this.”

Juan Carlos nods. “All your life is wrecked. Doing everything in a rush when there’s energy, because you don’t know when it’ll go away. Forget about your normal life with your normal distractions, you can’t even work properly. I had a side-gig translating documents and that dried up, my clients went with people who actually could start their computers.”

“And keep in mind, without power you lose water service too,” Gustavo Hernández, from Lara, chimes in. “Here, we sort of know when the cuts are coming, and we prepare, we get about 20 hours of energy a day, non-continuously. But there’s nothing more discouraging that having a power cut and feel how the whole city (Barquisimeto, in my case) dies. No shopping malls, no banks, no markets, just everyone outside, frustrated and playing dominoes.”

I could have them sitting in a support group, “Survivors of State Negligence,” where they could share their almost identical stories, although they’re kilometers away from each other. I experienced this psychological beatdown, the aftermath of a three week blackout, and it changed the way I see Venezuela, but for these guys, it’s been daily life for almost three months.

“It’s catastrophic,” Juan Carlos goes on. “Places without generators can’t work. If they have power plants, they’d still have no internet, or could go up in flames, as it recently happened. In the Universitary Hospital here in Merida, power supply is good and we’re rarely left hanging. But at the ambulatory in Tabay, we have to manage six dead hours a day. We can manage most things with flashlights, but there are patients we can’t help under those circumstances, like asthmatics. They have to go to the hospital.”

“I do feel something akin to survivor’s guilt. I have this buddy living in Merida, he disappeared for days. When he resurfaced, he didn’t have a clue of what was going on in the country.”

“My dad’s asthmatic,” my girl says. “He goes everywhere on foot because there’s no gas here, or public transport either. He has attacks from time to time, and has to endure them.”

When you talk with Carlos Hernandez, in Ciudad Guayana, Southern Venezuela, you can’t help but agree with him: if you’re going to live in Venezuela today, you better be in Caracas or in his home state, Bolivar.

“My power cuts aren’t really that bad,” he says. “A week ago, we were in the dark for five hours, but that’s really it, we returned to ‘normalcy’ before the huge blackout, meaning, we go back to the Middle Ages just once a week. Mind you, I’m in a lucky part of the city, I have a friend in San Felix (half an hour from Ciudad Guayana) and, dams and all, they get just six hours of energy a day.

I ask what makes the Bolivar State so different.

“Well, around my neighborhood, the power distribution lines are all ruined, so they fry from time to time. The Corpoelec guys have no proper tools or good wages, but if you provide them with these (and they accept meals as payment), your problem will be solved within the day.

“That is, if the failure isn’t serious. Otherwise you’ll be in the dark for weeks, or for good.”

He stops himself, his eyes consider what he’s about to say.

“I do feel something akin to survivor’s guilt. I have this buddy living in Merida, he disappeared for days. When he resurfaced, he didn’t have a clue of what was going on in the country and all of his food had spoiled. I feel like those who live abroad, helplessly watching and waiting for my turn.

“Tranquility here is apparent. Temporary.”

And all of these are sweet summer children compared to the death of the Zulian State.

“Some parts of Maracaibo have power for six hours a day,” says our man in Zulia, Braulio Polanco. “Where I live, I’m lucky if I get 16 hours of energy a day, but what good does it do me, when I work downtown? In my workplace, you literally have no clue of when you’ll have power and for how long, which is not actual working conditions. My brother, to give you an example, works from home, but he gets energy just on the wee hours. During daytime, he has to take care of his baby, so the dude never rests.”

“Our blackouts here began on a specific day, and I remember exactly because it was December, 25th, 2017. That’s when the downfall began, up to our present scenario. There are rural zones of Zulia, like Machiques or Guajira, that can go up to a week without an hour of power.”

All of this makes me think of that old adage, “Caracas es Caracas y lo demás es monte y culebra,” a perpetual hymn to our centralism, the generations-old implication that only Caracas is civilized and modern. Now, those of us living in the capital can go watch a movie or eat a pizza (if your wages allow it) while literally the rest of Venezuela is agonizing. However, your heart skips a beat when the lights flicker, and a part of you is always expecting another complete national breakdown.

Because, as Braulio says, “there are power generators, sure, but they work with fuel…

And fuel shortages are spreading throughout the country, and will reach Caracas as well.

Victor Cuotto

Victor usually writes about geek culture and punk music. In 2015, he won the Concurso Venezolano de Literatura Fantástica & Ciencia Ficción SOLSTICIOS. He thinks Magneto makes some valid points.