Venezuela seeks a way out of the emergency

This article was published in on April 2. Translation by Michael Otto.

On Sunday, March 31, Nicolás Maduro announced a special 30-day electricity plan to create “a special department of power management that will be able to balance the national electricity system.” He declared it Sunday night, after a week marked by successive outages that put most people in a situation where they were up against the ropes when solving daily problems. One in particular stood out: getting water. And yesterday the president described the situation as a serious emergency.

“This plan will have a special emphasis to not affect the energy needed to guarantee the supply of drinking water,” he said in the announcement. He also stated that school activities will continue to be suspended until April 2 and the workday will last until 2 p.m. in both public and private institutions. Maduro appointed Igor Gavidia León as the new Minister of Energy to replace retired General Luis Motta Domínguez.

The Minister of Communication, Jorge Rodriguez, in turn reiterated that the government is facing “manifold attacks on the electrical system,” which caused “significant damage to the transmission yard of the Simón Bolívar hydroelectric plant in El Guri and to the network of transmission lines, as well as to the switching systems and to the automation of the operation of the machines that generate electricity and in the distribution of the electric current.” The picture is complex, and the answers will not be immediate.

The predominant images of Sunday and Monday (yesterday) were of the people — people with big water jugs and barrels who were looking to fill them. In shops where they sell water, at watering places where they fill containers, like springs at the foot of the hills that border the valley of Caracas, upstream — where many people also go to bathe — at improvised water taps in tunnels and in urban places where they use broken pipes to solve the problem. The struggle to get water was continuous, and the capacity of the government’s cistern operations could not cope with the demand. Yesterday afternoon the water supply at several points in the capital and its vicinity had gradually begun to be restored.

The capital, as well as several parts of the country, was transformed into a scenario of individual, family and collective efforts to resolve the necessity of obtaining water and transportation. The Mayor’s Office of Caracas provided special routes in view of the difficulty of traveling due to the lack of subway service. Motorized groups of Chavistas were organized to take people home.

In that context, protests were staged Sunday afternoon and yesterday. Some were promoted by the opposition, for example, to prevent the passage of tankers sent by the government and to create greater hardship in order to capitalize politically using violent means.

This method was used on other occasions, such as in 2017 and in particular in 2016, when the tactic was to generate points of protest in the vicinity of the Miraflores Palace without taking responsibility for them, thus attempting to create an exaggerated popular uprising through networking on social media.

Some were spontaneous responses to the really difficult situation caused by the prolonged lack of water, which, unlike electrical power, had not returned to several places in recent days. Each day without water translates into a greater number of difficulties.

Guaidó, from his side, stuck to his story that blackouts were caused by corruption, fires were caused by lack of maintenance and the inability to fix that, by organizing “block, sector and neighborhood.” He reached a conclusion that above all stems from his desire and propaganda: “The myth and the legend that the popular sectors ever backed [the Chavistas] is over.”

He ratified his call for the April 6 mobilization, known as “Exercise Operation Freedom,” an action which he has not yet described, although he announced that “help and freedom commandos” will be created. He further asked the Bolivarian National Armed Forces to join him and asserted that the arrival of U.S. Marines is a possibility.

Yesterday we also learned that the Plenary Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice decided to ratify the ban on Guaidó leaving the country without authorization until the investigation begun on Jan. 29 is completed. In addition, the decision prohibits the sale of his property and imposes taxes on his property, blocks and immobilizes his bank accounts and/or any other financial instrument in Venezuelan territory.

The court also issued a fine of 200 tax units for his contempt of the exit prohibition injunction of Jan. 23 and ordered that a certified copy of the decision be sent to the president of the ANC [Constituent National Assembly] “for the purpose of search and seizure against the parliamentary immunity (that he is entitled to) in his capacity as a member of the National Assembly.”

Thus several moments are lived simultaneously in Venezuela. Events that frame the daily routine of material difficulties and the search for solutions, those that have to do with Guaidó’s attempts to recapture a political initiative that’s in decline, those of the government’s need to come up with answers in each dimension — the most urgent being the material — as well as the always latent threat due to the assault on power promoted by the opposition. And behind it all, or as Chancellor Jorge Arreaza said, in front of everything is the United States.  

Everyday life thus resembles a tightrope, very tense, which nevertheless does not seem close to breaking.

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