Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro announced that his country will ration electricity, a major blow to millions of his citizens who are already struggling with a month-long, nationwide blackout that has made it much harder to live.
During a televised address on Sunday, Maduro said that the rationing — where power will be shut off deliberately — would last for 30 days. Because of this, the government added that the workday will end now at 2 pm, and that schools will remain closed.
It’s a major admission by Maduro that he has no answers for ending the blackout that started on March 7 and has potentially killed upward of 20 people. That’s very uncharacteristic for the dictator, although he still blames the problem on the United States, his political opposition, and unspecified “terrorists.”
“We’re confronting monsters who want to destroy Venezuela,” Maduro said, saying the problem is one of “sabotage.”
It doesn’t look like he’ll be able to solve the problem soon.
Venezuela is currently under heavy American sanctions, mainly in an effort to remove Maduro from power so that Juan Guaidó, the US-backed opposition leader whom more than 50 countries recognize as the country’s legitimate interim president, can take over. Those penalties have reduced Venezuela’s oil exports by 43 percent between January and March, greatly impacting the resources Maduro can use to fix the electricity crisis.
But the main issue is that Maduro’s mismanagement led to an immense economic and humanitarian crisis that has devastated Venezuela and made it harder to fix the grid. In fact, to escape Maduro’s rule, millions of people — including about 25,000 employees in the electricity sector — have already fled the country.
The real worry, then, is that the blackout will only make this terrible situation even worse.
Why Maduro is at fault for the blackout
Maduro’s announcement this weekend was years in the making.
“Since 2013 the grid has been in crisis, but the billons of dollars Maduro dedicated to it were largely pilfered,” David Smilde, a Venezuela expert at the Washington Office on Latin America human rights organization, told me. That partly explains why during a 2016 drought, for example, Maduro asked shopping malls and others to ration their power usage.
But a situation like this is unprecedented. “The only thing that prevented this from happening before is the economic contraction of the past several years,” Smilde continued. “Declining industry, declining consumption, and a declining population have reduced demand. But now the deterioration of the grid has caught up with that decline.”
And the deterioration is massive. “The whole power grid is barely generating between 5,500 and 6,000 megawatts, when it has the capacity to generate 34,000 megawatts,” Winton Cabas, the president of the Venezuelan association of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering, told AFP on April 1.
Those problems have exacerbated humanitarian suffering in Venezuela.
About 70 percent of the country, including the capital, Caracas, is experiencing blackouts. It’s made hospitals struggle to treat patients or allow patients to give birth safely, and made it harder for Venezuelans to get food or water.
The water problem is particularly harrowing, Smilde notes, with water tanks already running dry in Caracas, forcing citizens to rely on the city’s polluted river.
“If the government does not prioritize getting water to the population, we could be confronting a humanitarian crisis that eclipses everything else that has happened,” he said.
Which means, horrifyingly, the worst may be yet to come.