Last month, beginning on March 7th and spanning until exactly a week later on March 14th, the entire country of Venezuela was in a nation-wide blackout. Since then, the country has experienced several smaller blackouts in specific areas and other spottiness in power. The cause of the week-long blackout was reported to be by a brush fire under some cables that were supplying power to the entire country. When I heard this, I immediately thought of the state of vulnerability that a nation must be in for a fire to rob an entire country of power for a week – the first concept that I feel was brought to light. Politically, Venezuela has been in a stand still between Juan Guaidó, the country’s self-proclaimed leader and the country’s president, Nicolás Maduro. During the blackout, this tug of war was out on the streets for the country to see as both leaders called on their supporters to rally against the other in protest to the electricity outage. In this moment when the power goes out, 30 million people are unsure of who is responsible, who is in charge, and who it is that they are to be turning to for guidance. A lack of basic political leadership proved to be detrimental as the darkness became (legitimately) blacker.
The very basic needs of the Venezuelan people such as food, clean water, and air conditioning (yes this is a basic need in such an extremely humid climate) quickly became jeopardized as a result of the blackout. Hoards of individuals as large as a thousand people began roaming the streets in search of food, robbing supermarkets for as much as they could grab. This eventually led to the sacking of anything and everything; ranging from appliances to furniture in hopes of gaining individual economic profit – made possible by the absence of any government officials or police patrolling the streets. Storeowners were calling and waiting for the police who never came to come to defend their stores as they were being burnt to the ground – a method used by ransackers to shine light on what exactly they were stealing. Police have been failing to show up to their jobs due to a lack of incentive in their paycheque, resulting in the lack of vigilance in the streets.
The sad reality of the week-long Venezuelan blackout is that at least twenty one people died, including six infants. The already fragile healthcare system was attempting to provide medical care with the use of bottled water and a limited supply of soap for sterilization, and had a shortage of medicines they needed. This wasn’t anything unusual, but now care was being provided in the darkness with only flashlights from cellphones to use as light. Venezuelans were coming into the hospital with gunshot wounds due to the violence in the streets, glass wounds from breaking into buildings, among other life threatening injuries. Individuals were having their wounded limbs amputated due to a lack of resources (and light to see clearly) when under normal circumstances alternative treatment other than removing their arm or leg could have been carried out. “Normal circumstances”, meaning a fully functional hospital stocked with all of the required resources and medicines with the lights on – two variables that Venezuela could not fulfill during the week-long blackout, and only half fulfills on any other normal day.
I want to make one thing clear in my writing on this issue – I am in no way blaming the Venezuelan people for any actions that they partook in during the blackout. Although some of these actions were extremely violent and destructive, it was evidently an extremely desperate situation, where the motive became to simply survive with a complete lack of guidance or leadership. What I feel needs to be taken away from the Venezuelan blackout is what was already severely broken within the country, and what the blackout simply intensified. Venezuela is in an economic collapse, where infrastructure is failing to be built and what is already existing is not being restored. Police officials are not showing up for their jobs, due to their salary failing to compensate for their work demand. The healthcare system is a complete anarchy, where military officials call the shots and doctors are lacking required resources to treat Venezuelans effectively, but are afraid to speak out.
President Maduro did eventually come out with a statement, shifting the blame to the United States government in a conspiracy led by Donald Trump – a cybernetic electromagnetic attack on Venezuela to prove Maduro to be an incapable leader in favour of the opposition Juan Guaidó, and aligning with Trump’s views on the stand still. Many Venezuelans did not buy this story, providing them with an equivalent of no further information at all. The hardships in Venezuela can be attributed to a variety of different causes such as a lack of funding, corruption, and a wavering foreign policy. However; a country with a shaky leadership can never be expected to be stable on their own. The Venezuelan blackout amplified the already existing struggles – unstable systems led by a precarious government who is failing to provide the very basic requirement of keeping the lights on for their people.