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Blackouts return to western Venezuela | International

Blackouts became commonplace in Venezuela in 2019.
Blackouts became commonplace in Venezuela in 2019.MATIAS DELACROIX

The Minister of Electric Energy of Venezuela, Néstor Reverol, announced a new electricity rationing plan in the western states of Venezuela. The measure has been dubbed the Load Management Plan and includes service suspensions for two shifts a day, with outages that can last up to three and four hours. Since March, in the Andean areas of the country, there are up to nine hours a day without power, and the hours of service alternate with cuts in periods of three hours. The measure affects the states of Zulia, Táchira, Mérida, Trujillo, Barinas, Portuguesa, Apure and Lara. In Zulia sits Maracaibo, the second city in importance and size in Venezuela. The Government has argued that the situation is a consequence of maintenance work and has promised improvements for the month of April.

Venezuela has had serious problems with the electricity service since 2007, during the times of Hugo Chávez. The circumstance worsened after Nicolás Maduro came to power. In states like Zulia, however, the situation had improved in recent months, registering two weekly power outages. The Maduro government blames international sanctions for the slowness in resolving the matter.

“The worsening of the electrical problem in Zulia has been drastic these days,” says Madelyn Palmar, a prominent journalist in the area. “The cuts last six hours, half the day many people do not have electricity. On this occasion, the rationing has been very extended in time. Almost 70% of the city is turned off, particularly at night. Lots of people have power plants.”

Minister Reverol has declared again that the current problems with the electrical service are the consequence of “an attack”, and alluded to the existence of “criminal groups that have vandalized equipment at the Lagunillas Substation, affecting the electrical service to various sectors of the Zulia state.”

“In Barinas there have been three daily rationing blocks since March,” says Laure Nicotra, another journalist who lives in the area. “There are several power plants that are not operational and we have been dealing with this problem, with improvements and setbacks, for years now. The situation we are experiencing now is the worst since the general blackout in March 2019. The cuts are not planned, they are made when the system requests it. There is an emotional break in those affected, many businesses have to close early because they cannot work.” Barinas can be without power for 12 hours in three shifts.

Western Venezuela cannot be fully fed by the Guri dam, one of the largest hydroelectric plants in the hemisphere. “Hugo Chávez’s government decided to install thermoelectric plants in these states, but they have not received maintenance. Right now there are 800 megawatts that are out of service in the area for this reason,” says an engineer who worked at the National Electric Corporation, Corpoelec, who prefers not to be identified.

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The creation of the Guri Hydroelectric Plant in the years of democracy and the consolidation of a mixed and decentralized system of services, in which the state hand and the business community were adequately combined, had allowed Venezuela to enjoy a good electrical system, one one of the best in the entire region throughout the 20th century, until approximately the year 2003. Venezuela was one of the first South American nations that was able to electrify its entire geography towards the middle of the 20th century.

In 2007, with Hugo Chávez in power, the first of the four major national blackouts that have taken place since then occurred. Accused of the lack of maintenance of the plants, Chávez then decided to exclude the regional private companies from the system, and centralize the service with the creation of Corpoelec in 2008. Since then, thanks to the bureaucratization, corruption and lack of maintenance, the failures in the electricity service in Venezuela worsened. With Nicolás Maduro they have acquired a dramatic character.

Winston Cabas, a member of the College of Engineers of Venezuela, lists among the causes of the collapse of the electrical service that “60 percent of Corpoelec’s qualified personnel have emigrated due to low salaries. Maintenance delays have been serious. Problems with oil production have made it difficult for thermoelectric plants to function properly. There have been major cases of corruption in the construction of power plants like Tocoma, and in the purchase of equipment for thermoelectric power.”

Táchira State spends up to 10 hours a day without electricity. “Corpoelec Táchira alleges that it hasn’t rained much in the state dams, even though the rains have been very frequent in these months”, affirms Yoirys Sosa, a regional reporter. “The Táchira thermoelectric plant is in good condition, but there is not enough diesel to feed it. Some regional deputies have proposed buying megawatts from Colombia,” she adds.

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