Teruggi is an Argentine journalist living in Venezuela. This article and photo were first published at pagina12.com.ar on March 13. Translated by Michael Otto.
March 13 — The country has not gone up in smoke. It might have, considering the severity of the blow caused by the nationwide power cuts that began March 7 at 5 p.m. and have not yet been fully restored. Tuesday’s news, March 12, is that the light has just returned in some places, as in the city of Maracaibo or in the Comuna El Maizal in the state of Lara.
The consequences of the power outage were many, as were the ways of addressing the crisis. That involved both government actions and spontaneous initiatives. For example, the government’s strategy was to use trucks carrying large quantities of water to supply the main points, such as hilltops and hospitals, and to guarantee food distribution through a variety of channels. What’s involved is trying to bring normal functioning to a country that was already mired in prolonged difficulties, after a blow on such an incalculable scale.
For example, the government could not cope with the magnitude of the demand for water, because the pumping system relies on electricity. This made collective initiatives imperative, such as opening pipes in El Valle or San Agustín, popular areas of Caracas, to fill jars and bottles. There are many images of people lining up to get water wherever they can get it — in stores, filling places, cisterns and springs.
Faced with such a situation, one could have expected a massive increase in the number of spontaneous outbreaks of protest, violence and mobilizations, beyond what the opposition is trying to organize. There were acts such as looting, for example, in the Sambil shopping center in Maracaibo. There, according to the general manager, a group of 300 people managed to knock down the gate, façade and door until they broke through.
There were a number of incidents, although one cannot speak of a scenario where everything expanded to bursting and was unstable and dangerous, owing to the circumstances and the calls of the opposition. The Attorney General announced that an investigation will be opened against Guaidó for his presumed participation in the sabotage of the national power system.
The mood in the streets of Caracas today during the day has been one of concern, determination, routine, with shops reopening, electronic billing systems functioning and transportation restored, even though the subway system is not yet in service.
Visitors to the city do not encounter a picture of devastation, but rather a situation of cumulative difficulties with new aspects — a Venezuelan identity that allows people to face adversity in a way surprising to the eyes of others.
Chavismo is actively influencing government and popular organization. Calm is returning, marked by awareness that nothing has ended. The citizens are conscious that Caracas is the center of a national and international conflict.
The newest reality was highlighted after a pivotal move yesterday. Minister of Foreign Affairs Jorge Arreaza announced the Venezuelan government’s decision: ordering U.S. diplomatic personnel to leave Venezuela within the next 72 hours and the termination of talks with the U.S. intended to establish “offices of interest” [used in minimal diplomatic contact].
Donald Trump’s administration, for its part, included the sum of $500 million for “the transition in Venezuela” in its budget request for 2020, confirming U.S. war policy and its plans for a prolonged conflict.
Meanwhile, on March 11 Foreign Minister Arreaza received a technical working mission from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner. The U.N. mission then met on March 12 with the National Assembly [the former legislature, currently dominated by the opposition, which Guaidó’s party has 14 seats in; the NA was outlawed by the Supreme Tribunal of Justice]. In the next few days, according to the foreign minister, the U.N. mission will meet with institutions of the Bolivarian government and public authorities.
In that context they will prepare a report on the extremely complex situation where there are conflicting and often unconfirmed data. The clearest example regards reports of the fatalities alleged to have been caused by the power cuts. Spokespeople from the opposition at first said 17; a journalist then stated there were 296, including 80 newborns. This figure was later disputed by the president of the College of Physicians from the state of Zulia, but was not withdrawn. The Minister of Health, for his part, affirmed that there have been no deaths in public hospitals due to the power outage.
Protests were called yesterday by the opposition, although only a few hundred demonstrators turned out. But events move very quickly as day turns into night. Fact checking always demands verification by different sources. The truth, as we are aware, is one of the first victims in situations like this.