Venezuelans have suffered serious human rights violations since the first national power failure occurred on March 7. Although the vital public service was partially re-established in the country, the story has been different in the state of Zulia.
In the west of the country, Zulia is the most populous state in Venezuela. It is known for its scorching heat but also for its once powerful livestock, agricultural and, of course, oil production. However, for some years now the region has also been the object of frequent power cuts, and since March the situation has worsened.
Workers of the state company Termozulia , responsible for producing and distributing electricity in the state, claimed that before the blackout on March 7 the local system was working at only 15% of its capacity. It could not make up for the lack of energy coming from the Simón Bolívar Hydroelectric Plant (commonly known as “El Guri”) located in the southeast of the country. In other words, the electricity that the people in Zulia use must cross the entire country in order to reach their homes.
“Given that the entire electricity system is collapsed, Zulia bears the brunt of it because it is last in line of the National Interconnected System,” stated a former employee of Corpoelec, the state-owned power company in Venezuela”.
Later, on March 25, a second national power outage occurred. Although in some parts of the country the supply had been partially restored, in Zulia this had not happened. Venezuelan media spread the complaints that citizens posted on social networks when mobile coverage had not yet collapsed.
Twitter users reported that some of the affected localities were Catatumbo, the municipality Francisco Javier Pulgar, Machiques and Ciudad Ojeda. “Eight days without power, since Monday 25 at 1:35 pm,” wrote one woman.
Rubén Turtulici, a resident of Maracaibo, reported that the city has been without electricity for up to 120 hours (5 days). This also results in the suspension of water supply, which has lasted for up to 2 weeks.
“We spent 120 consecutive hours without electricity. Currently there is no drinking water supply. There has been no water for 2 weeks and when there was, it only lasted half a day because it comes by gravity,” he said.
Many people have expressed their discontent with the situation and have demanded a solution to the crisis from the authorities, but they have been repressed by state security forces.
“In a demonstration in Maracaibo I saw the regional police of the state of Zulia and the Bolivarian National Guard firing tear gas directly at the people who were peacefully on the street protesting the failures in the services, most of whom were elderly people. The repression was not to disperse the demonstration, they had no mercy. The police rounded them up... it was a disaster.”
In these demonstrations, State Security officials assaulted journalist Elsy García, a radio announcer for Voz Estéreo 88.9 FM. She was impacted by a tear gas bomb while working in Maracaibo.
The power outage led to serious consequences that aggravated the already terrible situation suffered by Venezuelans: water shortages have worsened (90% of Maracaibo, the capital of Zulia, has had no water since March 27th), the scarce food that they had in fridges and freezers spoiled, and the gas supply was suspended and families had to cook with firewood.
“None of my appliances or electronic devices have broken down, but food did spoil. I didn’t have much because we can’t keep it refrigerated due to the lack of electricity. We have to go out every day to see what we can find and buy it in bolivars or dollars.”
Furthermore, hundreds of shops were looted in Maracaibo, where the material damage caused by these violent acts added to the damage already suffered as a consequence of the blackouts and the fluctuations in electricity supply.
Faced with the relentless heat, the residents of Zulia had to sleep outside their homes. This exposed them to insecurity and diseases transmitted by mosquitoes and other animals, as well as to the complication of chronic conditions, in a country with an 85% shortage of medicines and medical supplies and that the lack of adequate responses by the authorities has turned into one of the most violent and insecure countries in the world.
“There were no police officers on the streets to protect people during the blackouts. In fact, in my community, the “collectives” (groups of armed people who defend the interests of the government) threatened to shoot people if they protested ”.
In the country with the largest oil reserves and in the vicinity of one of the world’s largest refineries, fuels are also scarce in the state of Zulia. Lines of several blocks under the beating sun are constantly seen in Maracaibo.
“The lines for fueling vehicles are endless. You can wait in line for up to 24 hours, because few gas stations have power plants and the others work only when there is electricity. People sleep in line waiting for the stations to open and, in the short time that they work, fill up on gas. Those who can’t stand in line because they work or have other occupations have to resort to resold gasoline, which could cost up to 5 dollars per 5 liters of fuel,” Turtulici explains.
This fuel shortage, caused by the blackouts and the drop in oil production and refining, impacts the public transportation service in the country. In Maracaibo, buses are almost non-existent and those who venture to go around the city suffer an ordeal.
“There’s no public transportation in a city of more than 3 million people. We have to get on trucks like cattle and that if you can find them. That’s why people walk to run their errands and only every now and then you see a bus.”
Late and inadequate responses
Days after the second national power outage, Venezuelan authorities announced a rationing scheme for the whole country. The governor of the state of Zulia, Omar Prieto, said that in the state there would only be power for four or six hours a day. However, he noted that only 30% of the East and West coasts of Lake Maracaibo have had electricity (unstably).
“My community is located within a power grid where we have 4 to 6 hours of electricity a day. For the rest, we are talking about 18 to 20 hours without supply and without knowing when we will have it again.”
“We also do not have telephone service from the state-owned company (Compañía Anónima Nacional Teléfonos de Venezuela, Cantv), the mobile signal is very weak and it goes out every time that there is a power cut. This means that we do not know anything about what’s going on, we can’t access social media to find out. Nothing.”
In the case of hospitals, the governor ordered portable power plants that are not being used by businesses or public institutions to be taken and installed in health care facilities.
“Where there is a power plant that is not in use, it is the responsibility of the mayors to get them and install them in hospitals,” was the governor’s order, even though all the medical centers in the country should have their own emergency power plants.
However, Turtulici warns about the serious situation of hospitals in the Zulian capital, where the lack of electricity prevents effective treatment of even the most basic illnesses.
“My wife works in a hospital that has a power plant but no medical supplies. The patients have to buy everything and when they go to the pharmacy they cannot pay because there is no electricity and, therefore, the point of sale to pay with card does not work, they only accept cash. Patients die because of lack of supplies,” Turtulici stresses.
Venezuela is the country with the highest inflation rate in the world. According to international organizations and the National Assembly, the annual inflation rate has surpassed one million percent.
n addition, it has changed currency twice in less than 20 years to remove zeros from the ever-increasing numbers. However, these measures have been insufficient to allow people to purchase products, as the shortage of cash and its low denomination is crushed by inflation.
The situation of Zulians is one of the most serious in Venezuela, a country that before the blackouts was already going through a severe human rights crisis that is now worsening. It is urgent that the Venezuelan authorities take concrete measures to guarantee the human rights of all people in the country in the short, medium and long term, as even a lack of electricity can cost lives.
Tags: Venezuela, Zulia, Human Rights, Violence.
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