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Venezuelans protest power cuts and lack of water that put Maduro in a bind

Federico Parra /AFP

People protest for the lack of water and electric service on March 31.

- Maduro orders 30-day power rationing in response to blackouts

- Guaido says two people injured by gunshots at Caracas protest

By Jose Orozco / Bloomberg

CARACAS
Petroleumworld 04 01 2019

With the lights still flickering, Venezuelans are preparing for an event that the socialist regime has long tried to avoid: power rationing in the capital.

On Thursday, after much of Caracas had gone three days without electricity, businesses were reopening. Residents stocked up on bread as though a snow storm were about to hit town. The poor sought water as the wealthiest searched for generators and diesel fuel.

Caraquenos, as residents of the capital are known, are bracing for similar conditions endured in backwater towns and cities that have suffered unrest and looting. On Wednesday, President Nicolas Maduro announced electricity will be rationed as authorities try to fix the crisis-torn nation's shaky grid. The government has tried to shield Caracas at all costs by diverting energy and resources, but after two nationwide blackouts in less than a month, few believe the capital can continue to be safeguarded from years of mismanagement and decay.

“Now it's Caracas's turn,” said Dervis Gomez, a parking attendant at a bakery in the east of the city. Inside, shoppers queued for the few flatbreads and cakes available, while others simply idled and enjoyed the electricity. “We have power now, but it'll go out anytime.”

Stalled City

Venezuela is still reeling from a nationwide power failure that began Monday with classes and work suspended for a third straight day. Across Caracas long lines formed at gas stations, and the metro and most public transit remained closed.

Those with the means in Caracas have been buying up small, diesel-fueled generators. Joel Barrios, a salesman at ElectroMall, an electronics store on the east side of town, said his shop has sold over 500 units priced as high as $3,000 in the past two weeks.

"People are desperate,” Barrios said. “We sell out all the time.”

Andres Medina, 33, paid $250 to import a generator through courier service this month when he had to take care of his 2-year-old daughter through high fevers. It allowed him to keep his refrigerator, stove and television going over the past couple of days.

"I knew then that if I was going to continue living in Venezuela, I had to buy one," he said.

Supposed Sabotage

Maduro on Wednesday phoned in to state television and told Venezuelans -- those who could see him -- to expect more power cuts in days to come. “We will have days where we'll have to ration, conscientiously, in an organized manner,” he said.

For a decade, the government has tried to protect the capital from regular outages. In 2010, Maduro's predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez, sacked an electricity minister after he imposed a plan to ration power in Caracas amid a previous crisis.

Maduro, who is fighting to retain power amid international censure and domestic challenges, blamed a “brutal terrorist attack” by government foes. The opposition contracted a gunman who unloaded rounds into a “vital” transmission system in rural Venezuela, he said.

Maintenance

Maduro didn't specify where, but said authorities had recovered shells. Officials said a week-long failure earlier this month was due to a “cybernetic attack” launched by the U.S., but didn't provide evidence.
Experts have said the actual cause is a years-long dearth of maintenance. Rationing can't overcome the decay, said Nelson Hernandez, a Caracas energy consultant. He said restarting the system after widespread blackouts could result in further accidents.

“The national electrical system is in worse shape than before with the incidents that occurred these last weeks,” he said Thursday. “A rationing plan is successful if the electrical system is strong, not weak like the current one. With weaknesses in the system, such as faults in substations, transmission lines and turbines in hydroelectric plants, there can be no rationing organized and on a timetable.”

Wednesday's announcement was the first time the government acknowledged the blackouts could continue into the foreseeable future.

— With assistance by Alex Vasquez, and Fabiola Zerpa

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Story by Jose Orozco from Bloomberg.

bloomberg.com 03 31 2019

 

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