Oil exports slow and food scarce on day five of Venezuela power cut
Caracas residents collect water in streams, as services, businesses and schools grind to halt
A woman collects water from a sewage canal at the river Guaire in Caracas. Photograph: Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty Images
President Nicolás Maduro, who has blamed the unprecedented blackout on sabotage by the United States at Venezuela’s Guri hydroelectric dam, ordered the suspension of classes and the working day, as he had on Friday.
Sources in the oil sector, Opec member Venezuela’s main source of foreign earnings and a vital generator of revenue for Mr Maduro’s government, said that exports from the primary port of José had been halted by the blackouts.
The opposition-controlled congress called an emergency session to discuss the power cuts, blaming negligence by Mr Maduro’s government.
Mr Maduro’s rule is being challenged by congress leader Juan Guaidó, who in January invoked the constitution to assume the presidency after declaring Mr Maduro’s 2018 re-election a fraud. Mr Guaidó has been recognised as Venezuela’s legitimate leader by the US and most western countries, but Mr Maduro retains control of the armed forces and state institutions.
The blackout, which began last Thursday afternoon, has heightened frustration among Venezuelans already suffering widespread food and medicine shortages, as the once-prosperous nation’s economy suffers a hyperinflationary collapse.
Food has rotted in refrigerators, hospitals have struggled to keep equipment operating, and people have clustered on the streets of Caracas to pick up patchy telephone signals to reach relatives abroad. On Monday, people formed queues to fill containers with water from the streams cascading down the mountain overlooking Caracas.
“This is driving me crazy,” said Naile Gonzalez in Chacaíto, a commercial neighbourhood of Caracas. “The government doesn’t want to accept that this is their fault because they haven’t carried out any maintenance in years.”
Poorly maintained electricity network
Experts believe the nationwide blackout originated in transmission lines that transport energy from the Guri hydroelectric plant to the Venezuelan south.
Venezuela’s electricity network has suffered from years of underinvestment and a lack of maintenance. Restrictions on imports have affected the provision of spare parts, while many skilled technical personnel have fled the country amid an exodus of more than three million Venezuelans in recent years.
Winston Cabas, the president of an electrical engineers’ professional association, told reporters that several of the country’s thermoelectric plants were operating at just 20 per cent of capacity, in part due to lack of fuel. He said the government was rationing electricity, which explained why some parts of Caracas had power and others did not.
The process of restoring service was complex and could take between five and six days, he said.
“We once had the best electricity system in the world – the most vigorous, the most robust, the most powerful – and those who now administer the system have destroyed it.”
A source at state oil company PDVSA also said the government had decided to ration electricity, in part to supply power to the José oil export terminal.
The information ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
The collapse in crucial crude exports comes after the US slapped sanctions on PDVSA in January in a bid to cut off cash to the government and oust Mr Maduro from power. On Monday, it imposed sanctions on a Russian bank over its dealings with PDVSA.
“The United States will not stand idly by while foreign financial institutions facilitate illegitimate transactions that benefit Maduro and his cronies, and perpetuate the corruption that has devastated Venezuela,” US national security adviser John Bolton wrote on Twitter.
The lack of electricity has aggravated a crisis in Venezuelan hospitals, already lacking investment and maintenance in addition to the shortage of medicines. – Reuters