Maracaibo, zero zone of the blackout | international


Maracaibo, the oil city of Venezuela, is a devastated land. Eight days ago, plunged into a prolonged blackout, thousands of people left a disastrous trail in the capital of the western state of Zulia. The vandals razed about 562 businesses and industries, robbed hotels and imposed terror for 72 hours.

The devastation is comparable to a natural disaster. "I feel like a tornado has passed," says Marianela Finol, owner of a pharmacy, who was robbed by a stampede of strangers eight days ago. His activity had supported his family since 2012, although in recent years his productivity had decreased due to hyperinflation and power outages.

His story is interrupted when he remembers the assault. Finol, a 62-year-old engineer, did not find the administrative documents of the company. "They took everything: the computers, the water tank, the cables. It was terrible to see how it was. They just left empty shelves, furniture and lamps, the rest was stolen." Your pharmacy is located in the San Rafael shopping center. The attack was committed by some 1,000 people who destroyed and even set fire to businesses. "I feel helpless. Suddenly there was nothing. What happens? Nobody protects us, anarchy reigns," he adds.

Ricardo Acosta, vice president of the federation of employers of Zulia, is sure of the incapacity of the forces of public order. "They are responsible for the aggravation of this situation. There are stores that will no longer open," he explains.

The looting started on La Limpia Avenue, west of Maracaibo, and spread like a virus through the city. The police arrested 602 people because of the violence, but several witnesses claim that a more angry crowd acted. "There were thousands, almost the entire population and many were protected by security forces," said one man, who asked not to reveal his identity, and showed a photograph of a police patrol full of soft drinks supposedly extracted from a plant. Pepsi-Cola.

Four structures of the Polar Company, the largest food producer, suffered irreparable damage when about 500 people arrived and took away thousands of products and destroyed four cars. It's just a part of ruin. Fergus Walshe, director of the Zulia Chamber of Commerce, says that it would take more than 100 million to replace the assets and infrastructure damaged by looting in the city. "This will cause unemployment, more than 2,000 people can be left without work … I have several pharmacies, two of them have suffered total losses during the looting," he says.

Scarcity is approaching the western part of the country. Most of the looted industries provided food in that region of Venezuela. Trade minister William Contreras has promised to support those affected, but many fear that loans to Bolivar will not be sufficient to supply goods and equipment. Hyperinflation is an enemy that prevents the prosperity of small business owners.

Power transformers continue to explode and some territories remain without light. Walshe, 54, jokes when he remembers the bangs of bangs. "The first time I thought the Marines had invaded us, the explosions were scandalous," he says.

Governor Omar Prieto, a radical ally of Nicolás Maduro, said in a press conference that these were "problems with less impact" in 40 establishments. Madelyn Palmar, a journalist based in Maracaibo, says last Thursday there was a new explosion in an electrical substation. "We were again without light another 24 hours. Fortunately, there were no more disorders," he says.

For some, the blackout is a design of corruption and divestment that has deteriorated the industry for at least 20 years, even if Maduro accuses the United States and Juan Guaidó, recognized by 50 countries as interim president, of a cyber attack against the electrical system. Winston Cabas, president of the Association of Engineers of Venezuela, rejects the sabotage argument. "There was no maintenance". The expert attributes this defect to a fire in the main electrical substation of Malena (north of the southern state of Bolívar), fed by the bush. "We are in the summer. There was a spark and followed the fire. Anyone who wishes can see the fire outlined in the Google Earth satellite maps," he adds.

Maduro has never provided evidence. The president has diminished his appearances on television and in public events. His vice president, Delcy Rodríguez, has informed that the president will make a "profound" restructuring of his government to "escape" the "threats" to the country. He also ordered the custody and maintenance of power stations, although they were already guarded by the Bolivarian national armed forces before the accident.

In 2018, Zulia experienced a wave of blackouts that caused violent protests. That year the transformers exploded like artifice fires. On Thursday, three electrical substations exploded in Maracaibo and left many cities in the shadow. The heat is inclement all year, the maximum temperatures can reach 44 degrees Celsius and force its residents to use air conditioning. This is why Zaida Gutiérrez, 37, helps her children reduce their suffocation due to the impossibility of turning on the device for fear of a new power outage. "The downtime (interruptions) of the service are constant, I prefer to keep my things well and not be damaged by blackouts. It seems silly, but this collapse of the service is generating uncontrollable uneasiness in people. God has mercy on us because this crisis it is spreading and we never touch the bottom, "he says.



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