Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Blackout Hits Most of Venezuela

At least nineteen of Venezuela’s twenty-four states and several major cities have been affected by a blackout on Tuesday.

“The blackout started at approximately 12:30 PM on one of the main transmission lines, which caused a disruption in electric service to a good part of the country’s western and central areas,” said Franco Silva, the deputy minister for the government’s energy department.

“It will take several hours for the generator plants to restart and reestablish electric service nationwide,” added Silva in remarks made this afternoon to the state-run VTV network.

Residents of the capital city of Caracas reportedly tweeted that subway service had been partially disrupted while traffic has ground to a halt due to nonworking streetlights.

All day without light.  What a joke,” opined one Venezuelan Twitter user while another user posted a photo of a darkened Venezuela with the caption “We’re not in mourning.  We’re without light!”

Authorities in the Chacao neighborhood of Caracas ordered a “preventative evacuation” of shopping malls and offices while the area’s police chief told the local press that heavy traffic has congested streets and avenues.

According to the Venezuelan press, the situation in the blacked out city of San Cristóbal is one of “chaos” with massive traffic jams, closed businesses and disruptions in the cell phone and banking services.

Though transportation nationwide has allegedly been normal, delays hit the main international airport in Puerto La Cruz after it experienced thirty minutes without power.

Energy Minister Rafael Ramírez claimed that the Venezuelan oil industry is performing “absolutely normal” and, thus, there is a “guaranteed domestic market supply” of crude oil.  Furthermore, Health Minister Isabel Iturria said that hospitals are functioning normally since their “vital areas are running on generator power.”

While investigators are looking into the causes of the blackout, several senior officials have publicly blamed the opposition for causing the interruption in electrical service.

“At this hour it appears as if the extreme right has resumed its plan to create an Electric Coup against the country,” declared President Nicolás Maduro via his Twitter account.

“I ask for the support of all the electrical workers and countrymen to in this new battle to vaccinate the system of sabotage,” he added.

Former presidential candidate and opposition figure Henrique Capriles accused the government of looking for excuses in order to “cover up their latest failure.”

“Today’s blackout proves once more that the government is terribly incapable,” Capriles tweeted. 

“We deserve a country without blackouts where investment is done in maintenance in order to resolve our (energy) crisis,” he also said.

Although Venezuela is an oil-rich nation, residents in areas of the country have endured occasional blackouts that have lasted as long as eight hours.  Part of the reason for this is the country’s overreliance on hydroelectricity, which was evident in 2010 when a drought led to the nationwide rationing of electricity for several months.

Another factor is the apparent lack of government action to improve a decaying electrical grid that has become increasingly damaged over the last fifteen years:
Since (then-President Hugo) Chavez's election in 1998, Venezuela's shantytowns have seen a surge in electrical usage as a result of reduced poverty rates and high oil prices that have let the government spend lavishly on social programs. Satellite dishes adorn most of the rooftops of shantytown homes nowadays, while many residents take their electricity illegally through rustic cables attached to public lamps and power lines. 

Meanwhile a new public housing program that in just two years has built over 200,000 apartments across the country has put additional stress on the nation's energy grid.
Video Source– YouTube via user Diario Panorama (A police officer directs traffic in Maracaibo, Venezuela after a blackout affected most of the country on Tuesday.)

Online Sources – El Universal; El Nacional; elMundo.com.ve; Noticias24; UPI; Reuters; ABC News

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