Photo: Marco Bello / Reuters retrieved
“Is this really happening?” 11-year-old Sofía asks me. She’s furious.
Power just failed in Maracaibo’s Bellas Artes Theatre, where she and her classmates are about to start the ceremony for their sixth-grade graduation. In this city, people are trying to live the best they can with the energy failures they’ve been suffering since March. But this power cut wasn’t scheduled.
The theatre has no power generator and only holds daytime events. But on July 22nd, while Sofía and her classmates, relatives and teachers are readying for the graduation, there’s another national blackout affecting 20 states in the country for over 24 hours.
Although Chávez promised a year later that Venezuela would have “the best electric system in the continent” by 2011, blackouts resurfaced in 2013, 2017, 2018 and this year.
“No power all year, and now during our graduation too,” Sofía says.
She was merely two years old when Hugo Chávez announced, in 2009, that due to the draught in the Guri Dam in Bolívar, on the other side of the country, Venezuela was experiencing an electric crisis and had to apply a 12-hour power rationing plan. And although the leader of the so-called Bolivarian Revolution promised a year later that Venezuela would have “the best electric system in the continent” by 2011, blackouts resurfaced in 2013, 2017, 2018 and this year.
Sofía is part of a generation that has had to grow up with blackouts as normal events.
Like everything else in Maracaibo, schools have been affected by the mayhem. Thousands of kids in Zulia had to attend classes without electricity or in special schedules, and they’re sent home at 10:00 a.m. instead 1:00 p.m. as usual, so studies have been significantly upset. For instance, some topics were either trimmed off or left out of the curriculum, to prioritize other school activities.
Some teachers take their students outdoors, because kids have been complaining about the heat and mosquitoes in classrooms. After all, this city can easily reach 38° C any given day. “I have a colleague who was nicknamed Simón Rodríguez because he taught outdoors, as in Bolívar’s time,” says Daniela, a teacher at Colegio Santa Isabel, speaking of El Libertador’s preceptor.
When the blackouts started in March, some children took it as entertainment and even played hide and seek in their neighborhoods. But as weeks went by, boredom and stress took over. “My son no longer gets angry or cries, but the other day he told me he wanted a power generator for his birthday. It broke my heart,” says Jessica, mother of a seven-year-old boy.
Josefina has a two-year-old granddaughter in an area of the city where rationing schedules are never respected and they get eight or nine hours of power, instead of 12. Her granddaughter gets bored because she can’t watch TV or play with her dad’s phone; Maracaibo, as most Venezuelan cities, is not a place where kids have a lot of options to safely play outdoors. “She’s always telling me to take her to my house because she’s too bored at hers. I can do without electricity, but I wish my son and granddaughter could have it 24 hours a day, because I know they suffer a lot when it fails.”
Some teachers take their students outdoors, because kids have been complaining about the heat and mosquitoes in classrooms.
On July 25th, PSUV-imposed Zulia governor Omar Prieto announced that, after solving the problems causing the latest national blackout, the region was back to the 12-hour rationing schedule. But not only did the kids have to stand a tough school year, they also have to cope with holidays without TV anytime they want, with malls working half-shifts, with barely functional movie theatres and with a hyperinflation that hits their parents’ pockets to the point where they can barely guarantee three meals a day, if at all.
Whether in schools or at home during the holidays, kids don’t even have fans to drive away the Zulian heat. Being a child in Maracaibo has never been never this hard.