Much of Venezuela is still in the dark — now four days running — after the worst blackout on modern record in Latin America enveloped the country last Thursday evening. And as of Saturday, Reuters reported at least 17 deaths at hospitals across the country attributable to the power outage, given many hospitals are now for days completely reliant on back-up generators to keep life saving ventilators and other medical devices going. Other reports have claimed multiple dozens of deaths across the country, especially in hospital neonatal units.
Embattled socialist president Nicolas Maduro has continued to blame the crisis on an act of “sabotage” by the United States at the Guri hydroelectric dam, for which he’s mobilized troops to protect the national electricity system for the duration of the power outage. However, most analysts agree the electrical grid mass failure is the result of generally failing infrastructure after years of underinvestment and neglect.
Following claims made through state TV social media of an “electricity war” being waged by the US and the Venezuelan foreign-backed opposition, Maduro stated on Twitter Sunday: “The national electrical system has been subject to multiple cyberattacks,” and he added, “However, we are making huge efforts to restore stable and definitive supply in the coming hours.”
Over a weekend in which most major cities and towns remained in darkness and without internet, problems compounded as Venezuela’s already aging and mismanaged infrastructure continues to collapse in a domino effect of crises precipitated by the electrical grid mass failure, including endangerment to hospital patients on ventilators and other medical devices, shuttered businesses, and cash-only transactions, which remains difficult given the essentially worthless value of the local bolivar.
El Sistema Eléctrico Nacional ha sido objeto de múltiples ataques cibernéticos que ocasionaron su caída y han impedido los intentos de reconexión nacional. Sin embargo, hacemos grandes esfuerzos para, en las próximas horas, restaurar el suministro de forma estable y definitiva. pic.twitter.com/C1dJGuWxSD
— Nicolás Maduro (@NicolasMaduro) March 10, 2019
Already amidst hyperinflationary collapse and worsening public services, Venezuelans are being forced to throw away rotting food and forgo normal communications and transport.
Meanwhile opposition leader Juan Guaido on Saturday called for mass protests to be held throughout the weekend in Caracas, which were also met with large counter-protests by Maduro supporters as the political situation is now linked to the rapidly failing public infrastructure.
What’s being described as a “second outage” which hit Saturday as power in some locations was struggling to come back online was reportedly caused by an explosion at a power station in Bolivar state:
In another blow to Venezuela’s infrastructure, an explosion occurred at a power station in the country’s Bolivar state on Saturday, according to local media. Video posted on social media showed fire and smoke billowing from the site. Venezuelan authorities have not commented.
Netblocks, a non-government group based in Europe that monitors internet censorship, said on Saturday that the second outage had knocked out almost all of Venezuela’s telecommunications infrastructure. — Associated Press
— VPItv (@VPITV) March 10, 2019
Reuters summarized the steadily worsening situation as of Sunday:
Food rotted in refrigerators, people walked for miles to work with the Caracas subway down, and relatives abroad anxiously waited for updates from family members with telephone and internet signals intermittent.
“What can you do without electricity?” said Leonel Gutierrez, a 47-year-old systems technician, as he carried his six-month-old daughter on his way to buy groceries. “The food we have has gone bad.”
Lines formed outside the few Caracas gas stations with open pumps, while many motorists stopped along the sides of highways to use their mobile phones in the few areas of the city with signal.
Basic transactions even among those able to pay remains a problem after power began returning to parts of Caracas and other cities on Friday, but went down again during the day Saturday.
Reuters summarizes further:
Some bakeries, supermarkets and restaurants were open and running on backup generators, according to Reuters witnesses. Many were asking customers to pay in U.S. dollar bills, since debit card payment systems were not working reliably and local bolivar notes have been scarce for years.
“Customers are buying drinks, batteries and cookies, but we are out of water,” said Belgica Zepeda, a salesperson at a Caracas pharmacy.
Worse, an independent organization called Doctors for Health told Reuters that 17 hospital patients across the country have died as a result electricity outages at hospitals, and the unreliability of back-up generators.
One unconfirmed local report said at least 80 neonatal patients died at University Hospital in Maracaibo, Zulia, over the course of the blackout.
— Sotiri Dimpinoudis (@sotiridi) March 9, 2019
According to prior AP reporting, the blackout struck during Thursday evening’s peak rush hour period, and after extending through the night Maduro reportedly ordered all schools and government locations closed. Businesses were further ordered closed in order allow work crews easy access to the failing power infrastructure.
Community food banks have begun to operate with the purpose of getting food into people’s hands before it spoils and store shelves:
#SOLIDARIDAD Este Domingo se sumaron más comercios a la iniciativa de entregar alimentos a los vecinos antes que se descompongan. Este local está ubicado en sector Belloso de Maracaibo, estado Zulia. Video: @Gerardtorresp #10Mar pic.twitter.com/wdxqE1vGUk
— Elyangelica González (@ElyangelicaNews) March 10, 2019
According to VOA news Venezuelan officials “said the hydroelectric station at the Guri Dam, one of the world’s largest, had been sabotaged, but offered no evidence.”
And predictably, US officials were quick to capitalize on the Venezuelans’ plight, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo taking to Twitter to say at the end of last week: “Maduro’s policies bring nothing but darkness,” and “No food. No medicine. Now, no power. Next, no Maduro.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Marco Rubio remains busy promoting regime change while getting some basic facts horribly wrong…
Oh my god. pic.twitter.com/hcPdCtqTme
— Jason Sparks (@sparksjls) March 10, 2019
Reuters noted that the only blackouts in Venezuela’s recent history that come close to the length and devastation of this current one were in 2013 and 2018. During the former 23 states endured a six-hour outage, while in the later eight states were hit with a 10-hour power outage.
The network monitoring organization NetBlocks says 96% of the entire country remains without internet access as of Sunday.
The current outage has impacted a record 23 out of 24 states and as the country heads into another work week, the situation remains bleak and unclear, especially as Reuters noted, “Electricity experts said that outage was most likely due to failures in the transmission system, and that the government lacks the equipment and staff to repair them.”