Looting breaks out in Venezuela as electricity crisis worsens

Falling water levels at main Guri dam sidelines main hydroelectric power plant

Protesters take to the streets of the city of Maracaibo after two days without electricity.
Protesters take to the streets of the city of Maracaibo after two days without electricity.EFE
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El racionamiento eléctrico provoca protestas y saqueos en Venezuela

As Venezuela’s energy crisis worsens, with frequent and sustained blackouts throughout the country, looting has broken out in at least seven states. On Tuesday, in Maracaibo, capital of the western state of Zulia, people took to the streets to protest a second consecutive day without electricity amid soaring temperatures.

Local media reported that at least 12 shops had been looted in the city, as well as government premises. The government has not commented on the disturbances, but Francisco Arias Cárdenas, the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) governor of Zulia, said that more than 70 shops had been destroyed in the city of Maracaibo and 103 people arrested. Cárdenas attributed the violence to “right-wing groups that are trying to take power.”

In Valencia, in the central state of Carabobo, protesters burned tires on train lines. There were outbreaks of looting reported in Miranda’s state capital of Los Teques, as well as in towns and cities in Bolívar state.

Water levels at the Guri dam’s Simón Bolívar hydroelectric power station have fallen to just above the “collapse” line

President Nicolás Maduro blames the El Niño weather phenomenon for a drought that has seen water levels at the Guri dam’s Simón Bolívar hydroelectric power station, which produces 70% of the country's power, to fall to just above the “collapse” line. If the level falls below that point, water won’t reach the turbines that generate electricity. Critics accuse the government, which took over the electricity sector in 2007, of mismanagement, failing to invest in alternative electricity generation and of corruption.They add that billions of dollars have been invested in the electric power industry in recent years to no apparent effect.

A project to build a dam in Tocoma, in the south of the country remains unfinished. It is supposed to produce half the electricity required by the region, which is currently supplied by the Simón Bolívar hydroelectric plant at the Guri dam.

The government has sought to tackle the electricity shortages by reducing the working week to two days, as well as extending public holidays. But unless it rains in the coming days, Venezuela faces a near-total blackout.

English version by Nick Lyne.

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