Protesters have repeatedly denounced widespread food and medicine shortages, rampant hyperinflation of over 10 million percent, and brutal human-rights abuses committed by security forces, but by the evening of March 7, they had yet another reason to raise their voices, as the country experienced the worst blackouts in decades.
“We are completely tired of this,” said Mariana López, 25, in San Fernando de Apure, the capital city of the southern Apure region. “There are a lot of electrical faults, but we have never seen entire days without electricity throughout the whole country before.”
While López was fortunate enough to save food—an increasingly precious commodity in the OPEC nation—others weren’t as fortunate as the worst power shortages dragged on for a third day.
“We have no internet, no water, no telephone, and all of our food has gone bad,” said a resident in the city of Valencia, who wished to remain anonymous to avoid potential repercussions from the state. “It’s a war but without opponents—everyone is fighting to survive. I have two young babies, I don’t know if we can take much more.”
Aside from protesters, the streets were largely empty and the few shops that were open were charging dollars and euros because credit card machines were down, they said.
Power was temporarily restored on the evening of March 8, but was out once again by March 9 as poorly maintained electrical substations failed, affecting 22 of 23 states.
Juan Guaidó, recognized by Washington and more than 50 other nations as Venezuela’s legitimate interim president, slammed Maduro’s government for causing a “tragedy without precedent” to an excitable and impassioned crowd that filled Avenida Victoria in central Caracas. Some frustrated protesters clashed with a heightened police presence that tried to quash the demonstrations.
“The road has been very long, it has worn us out, but we’re not going to stop,” the fresh-faced opposition leader said, struggling to reach the crowds through a megaphone as his usual stage had been disassembled by security forces the night before.
Maduro, who still has the support of the military, emerged after two days without a public sighting to meet with his supporters, who were in the hundreds rather than in the thousands.
“Here I am, facing my responsibilities,” Maduro told them, before blaming foreign powers for violating the country’s sovereignty.
As well as food spoiling as refrigerators stood idle, essential medicines, such as cancer treatments, began to go bad, and patients went days without dialysis treatment. A video posted on social networks depicted doctors battling to keep a newborn baby alive by manually pumping air into the baby’s lungs as ventilators in an intensive care unit were made useless because of the failure of backup generators.
Seventeen individuals died in hospitals due to the outages, said opposition Congressman Jose Manuel Olivares.
Venezuela’s Minister for Communication and Information Jorge Rodríguez blamed the latest crisis on the United States for “attacking” the hydroelectric grid’s control system, which provides 70 percent of the country’s energy.
Rodriguez singled out Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla), Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Vice President Mike Pence, all of whom rejected—and some even mocked—the accusations that a foreign nation could have intervened to affect the heavily guarded electrical complex.
“My apologies to people of Venezuela. I must have pressed the wrong thing on the ‘electronic attack’ app I downloaded from Apple. My bad,” Rubio wrote in a tweet on March 7.
For those on the ground, the cuts were no laughing matter. The metro system ground to a halt, most flights were grounded, and 96 percent of the population was left without internet access.
Many who make up the now 3-million-strong Venezuelan diaspora who have fled the crisis in recent years desperately sought communication with their loved ones to check on their safety.
“I’m incredibly worried as my mother and daughter are there, and they are the only thing I have,” said Alessandra Páez in Bogotá, Colombia, who hasn’t checked in with her family since 6 p.m. on March 6 and usually sends money home to support them every week. “If they are sick, there is no way for a hospital to see to them. If they are hungry, there is no way to buy food, and if there is an emergency, there is nothing I can do.”