The electrical problem that Venezuela is currently experiencing is a difficult situation to explain to those who have not personally experienced all the stages of Hugo Chávez’s government from 1998 until today.
Nevertheless, I will try to summarize the most important aspects that have led us to this collapse, which is only a reflection of the profound economic, political, and social crisis.
The Simón Bolívar Hydroelectric Plant was inaugurated in 1978. This plant has progressively become the main source of electricity for the entire country and part of the border with Brazil.In 2007, given the increases in the population and the little-planned projects for the construction of free housing, both in the capital and in the interior of the country, specialized engineers suggested that President Hugo Chávez expand the complex as well as acquire thermoelectric plants that would alleviate the load on the hydroelectric dam.
Evidently, none of this was done, and thus began the rationing of electricity since 2010 in the interior of the country and since this year in several areas of Caracas.
Electricity rationing schedules have been the norm throughout the country since 2010. This rationing has been intermittent, with some months being stricter than others, but it has been maintained over the years.
In Caracas, the capital and the city where I live, electricity rationing was talked about as a distant issue. It really wasn’t something that affected us. But from 2013 onward, a series of voltage variations began threatening to damage all the electric equipment in the house.
The sudden power surges that have occurred since then have forced me to buy voltage regulators for all the electrical appliances in my house, especially the refrigerator and air conditioning. In fact, one of those changes burned my air conditioning regulator.
Fortunately, this time only a few light bulbs were burned, and I did not suffer any loss of important equipment. But a nearby bakery suffered a voltage surge of such magnitude that it caused irreparable damage to two freezers. This situation is being experienced throughout Venezuela and is now part of everyday life here.
I am a surgeon at the most important hospital in Caracas, and I can attest to the damage we have suffered since 2013.
The voltage failures have not only damaged almost the entire light system inside the hospital, counting the emergency lights, but also clinical equipment such as blood freezers, centrifuges, and air conditioners in the operating room area.
In spite of this, we still try to work with relative normality, but I never imagined that the situation would worsen as much as it has.
In January 2019 some journalists announced that the water level of the dam that supplies the hydroelectric plant was very low and that it would not be able to supply and maintain the country’s electricity demand when taking into account the number of buildings, schools, and health centers that the government has built without the advice and planning of trained professionals.
In March of this year, there was a collapse for which no one was prepared. We suffered a national blackout that lasted three days throughout the country, extending to five in some areas of Caracas and some states of the interior.
During the blackout, the perishable food was lost; many food businesses, stores, supermarkets, and restaurants gave away their inputs.Fortunately, I have a gas-powered kitchen at home, but in my mother’s case, her kitchen is electric, and her area was one of those affected for five days without electricity. The neighbors created a WhatsApp group to help themselves with this type of inconvenience.
Those who had gas stoves opened their doors to those who could not cook, and these, in turn, helped with other types of shortages.
The second major problem was water supply failures. In some places, it took more than a week for the water to be re-established.
Particularly, I had to live five days without a drop of water, which forced me to go to the houses of friends who have water tanks or deep well systems to bathe and wash clothes.One of the voltage changes burned the water pump that supplies the hospital where I work. Therefore for more than six months, this supply was not available. It has just been restored (but only up to the seventh floor).
In addition, only one functional elevator was left. The motors of the remaining nine elevators were burned out in different power surges.
In Caracas, the electricity supply was restored, although voltage variations continue and are frequent. But in the interior of the country, rationing lasts from 5 to 12 hours.
From that moment, I had concerns that I never had before. I must make sure that the cell phones are always charged and that there is no lack of candles, matches, batteries for the flashlight, and non-perishable food. Also, I always try to have some cash.
The new situation has led to unusual purchases of power generators to meet basic needs. Those who can’t afford one must take basic steps to avoid the knocks of lack of electricity.
My aunt, who lives in the hottest state of the country, where temperatures reach 107°F all year, has had a rationing schedule from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. every day since March.
She is a diabetic and, along with some neighbors, bought a little electric generator to supply the refrigerator because insulin must stay cold. Unfortunately, the power of the generator is only enough for this purpose and to light some light bulbs. The heat at night is still unbearable.
Like her, many continue to live in this situation that does not seem to have a way out in the short term.
I believe that if something positive can be drawn from those dark days, it was the union and solidarity that I observed between friends and neighbors who were willing to help at all times.
The situation that seemed unsustainable has taken the grim pace of normality. The government no longer talks about the country’s electricity problem. Like many other problems, it has become an issue in the daily lives of the citizens.
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