Blackouts in Venezuela Strain Quality of Life for Citizens

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SEATTLE, Washington — In March 2019, widespread blackouts across Venezuela alerted global attention. Blackouts in Venezuela are a phenomenon caused by the nation’s energy poverty and a direct result of the economy’s collapse. Energy poverty is when a country lacks access to electricity, which has a negative impact on the quality of life. This article will explore the timeline of Venezuela’s power outages, the effects of these blackouts and the causes claimed for these blackouts.

Timeline of the 2019 Venezuela Blackouts

  • 7 March – The first wave of major power outages spread across Venezuela, affecting at least 18 of its 23 states. These outages are marked as the largest in Venezuelan history.
  • 12 March  – Some of the Venezuelan states regain power. The capital, Caracas and areas along the western border by Columbia still lack electricity
  • 14 March  – Short-lived end of Venezuela’s first major power outage, as Caracas and other regions regain power. Smaller regions still lack power, however, due to generator problems and similar issues. 
  • 25 March – The second wave of mass blackouts spread across Venezuela. After a day, power briefly returns for half of Venezuela but fails the next morning. 
  • 28 March – The second mass blackout ends as power temporarily returns to most of Venezuela. 
  • 29 March –  A third blackout strikes across numerous Venezuelan cities. This is the second blackout in a single week.
  • 30 March – A dozen Venezuelan states are now left without power from the third blackout.
  • 31 March –  In light of consistent energy failures, President Maduro announces a 30-day plan to ration power across Venezuela.
  • 9 April –  Another power outage sweeps across the majority of Venezuelan states, disrupting nationwide communication services for 40 hours despite the 30-day rationing plan.
  • 22 July – The fourth major blackout within five months spreads across Venezuela, potentially causing all of the nation’s states to lose power.
  • 23 July – Power slowly begins to return to states across Venezuela while many regions remain subject to smaller power outages as energy supplies are still unstable.

Effects of the 2019 Venezuelan Blackouts

Significant damages resulted from the four major blackouts in Venezuela. From food supplies to untimely deaths, there are many losses accumulated from Venezuela’s power outages. Food and medical shortages already prominent from Venezuela’s economic crisis worsened due to power outages. Refrigerated foods across homes and storefronts spoiled, exacerbating food shortages and costing stores valuable revenue. Some store owners simply gave away mass amounts of food so that it wouldn’t go to waste. People were looting during the blackouts. Stolen items ranging from produce to home goods to money directly taken from cash registers.

Factories had no choice but to hinder the production of oil, sugar and countless other supplies due to the blackout. Many factories and production plants resorted to using generators, but still had insufficient power to meet quotas. Venezuelan industries lost an estimated $220 million in productivity due to the March blackouts and around $100 million from the April blackouts.

Other amenities were also affected. Clean water production and distribution were halted or severely decreased with water shortages affecting some parts of Venezuela for weeks at a time. Many Venezuelans without electricity had to wait for hours outside in long lines in the hopes of retrieving potable clean water. Some Venezuelans resorted to using water from the Guaire River despite it being contaminated with sewage. This resulted in the spread of bacteria and disease, as diarrhea and other ailments became a widespread issue.

According to the NGOs Doctors for Health and Codevida, at least 43 people died during the first wave of blackouts across Venezuela. These deaths were primarily caused by hospital errors due to the March power outages. The Venezuelan government denies the number of fatalities attributed to hospital failures during the blackouts.

Conflicting Causes of the Blackouts

Venezuela’s main power supply comes from a hydroelectric power plant sourced from the Gurí Dam. The dam provides energy to energy substations across Venezuela. The San Geronimo B substation is the biggest energy provider for the nation. The failure of these substations resulted in the blackouts. What caused the power failures, however, depends on who is asked.

Coming from the Venezuelan government, President Maduro and his associates claim it’s an electromagnetic attack from the United States. Maduro himself posted to social media “the electrical war announced and directed by the imperialist United States against our people will be defeated,” directly accusing the U.S. of sabotaging the Gurí Dam and the San Geronimo B substation. Given the current presidential crisis in Venezuela, Maduro claims that these blackouts are some ploy to undermine his leadership and further support his political opponent, Juan Guaidó.

Meanwhile, non-government sources say that the blackouts in Venezuela are due to the lack of investment and maintenance of the dam and other power substations. The BBC’s Venezuelan correspondent Guillermo Olmo investigated an electrical substation in Venezuela, noting that the substation was overgrown with weeds and had a transformer recently explode, cutting power from the city of Puerto La Cruz. This was just one instance of poor maintenance in regards to Venezuelan power plants.

Although the blackouts in Venezuela have different causes attributed to them, it is important to remember that these 2019 power outages are not an isolated phenomenon. Power shortages have been an issue in Venezuela as early as 2010. Ever since the first power outage, claims of sabotage and poor infrastructure have been argued by Maduro supporters and opposers.

The Takeaway

Energy poverty is a serious issue in Venezuela. Regardless of what supposedly caused the 2019 blackouts, one thing is clear: Venezuela’s economic crisis worsens the effects. With food and medical shortages already a major issue across the nation, preventing future blackouts must become a primary focus of the Venezuelan government for the sake of its people’s livelihoods.

Suzette Shultz
Photo: Flickr

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