With A Straight Face

 Just a quick example of what dominates my news feed on a daily basis. From Telesur (Chavista Media),  “Colombia Still Has No Answers After Two Months Of Protests ) I didn’t read the article…I mean what’s the point? Telesur will keep you informed on the challenges of raising chickens in Ethiopia but has nothing factually to offer about Venezuela,or at least rarely so. How do they say this stuff with a straight face? They should have followed the Colombia article with a headline like ” Maduro Still Has No Answers After Eight Years Of Protests.”

 I have an update on something we mentioned a week or two ago. A P reports that so far this year 17,306 Venezuelans have illegally crossed the southern border of the US. Many of them previously fled to Central America to escape the tyranny of the Maduro regime. We’ll soon hit the six million mark. If Kamala Harris wants to address the root causes of illegal immigration perhaps she should visit Caracas?

 Enough of that…back Down The Rabbit Hole for more “Just The Basics” …

 ……Then came March,2019. On March 7th power went out in Caracas. No major concern right? As if on cue power returned after an hour or two. Life in the third world right? Then the lights went out …and they stayed out. 23 of 25 states in Venezuela were without power.The blackout lasted five days in Caracas,longer in some areas, and in places it was almost indefinite. A week later another less intense but still far reaching blackout occurred lasting a couple of days. That was followed up by a one day blackout in most of the country.

 In a country already reeling from the most disastrous economy in it’s history and most think it’s the greatest economic collapse in the history of the western hemisphere the effects of the blackouts were nothing short of catastrophic. The latest food crisis, unlike the food crisis of 2014 where there simply wasn’t ant food on the shelves (although many areas still suffer shortages), is that there is nothing affordable,at least not for the average Venezuelan.Hyperinflation and devaluation have caused the average person to survive on the “Maduro Diet” of about 700 calories a day. More on that later. The transportation sector had collapsed along with the oil industry (gasoline/diesel shortages), healthcare, education, and others. Now no power. As bad as it is having to dig through garbage to survive now they had to do it in the dark!

 The first day or two of the blackout(s) actually unified much of the population. Food that would spoil was cooked and shared by those with gas or access to wood/charcoal fires.People shared candles, kerosene lanterns,etc. Many neighbors became closer as they interacted more since they had to be outside. It was just too hot in their homes. That positive effect was short lived and soon desperation set in. “How long is this going to last?” With little to communication available via telephone,TV,internet, people didn’t know when,or if, help was coming and they responded as people all too often do. Scenes all over the country looked like something out of “Mad Max”. It truly was a post-apocalyptic scenario.

 Widespread looting was reported. Initially it was primarily food items but soon anything and everything were targeted.In Maracaibo alone over 500 stores and businesses were ransacked. The metro stopped running, the oil wells stopped pumping. Those with generators for their homes and businesses ran out of fuel. Back-up generator systems in hospitals broke down as they were meant to last for hours, not days.Surgeries in progress were completed with whatever lighting was available which in some cases meant using light from smart phones. No dialysis, chemo, radiation,etc. People trying to escape the heat by sleeping outside were robbed. It was a nightmare.

 Another victim of the blackouts which contributed to the post-apocalyptic scenario was commerce. Under the crunch of a cash shortage and with hyperinflation requiring large amounts for any purchase most transactions are done with debit cards or bank transfers using smart phones. No power meant no card readers and mostly no cell service so unless you had dollars or euros it was a blast from the past as people reverted to the barter system.

 In the brief period between blackouts and following the third one the government’s response to the situation was more focused on where to place the blame than on what was being done to fix the problem.Much of it was the same explanation they used for everything wrong with the country. “It’s right-wing terrorists” or “it’s Colombian paramilitaries backed by the US” or “It’s a plot by the CIA to bring down ‘The Revolution’ “and now these took on a new wrinkle.These three with numerous references to the imperialist oligarchs were behind the hackers that attacked the Guri Dam operating system. They quickly had to change that story when someone informed them that the operating system at Guri was an old analog system that had never been upgraded to digital. You can’t hack an analog system.

 Even the Chavista’s stranglehold on the media couldn’t contain the facts.They could jail sources inside the country but that wouldn’t erase what they might say outside. The main sources for the reality of the situation came from around the world. Corpolec (the government owned electric company), like PDVSA, had lost many employees due to economic conditions, purges,scapegoating, and fear of future scapegoating. There were also engineers with foreign firms familiar with the complex nature of Guri’s operating system and specifically it’s turbines. They knew what hadn’t been done,what should have been done, and what needed to be done.

 So what really happened? Again, I’ll try not to get too deep in the weeds. As previously stated, Guri provides the majority of power to most of Venezuela. The massive turbines generate power that leaves on one main line and is then split into three primary lines. Like all power lines they require constant maintenance to keep both the lines themselves and the ground below clear to prevent physical and fire damage. This simply was neglected. When fire triggered an overheat alarm on one of the three primary lines and it shut down all the power was diverted to the two remaining lines. They overheated and shut down as well. Now comes the tricky part. To restore power it’s not like you can just reset a circuit breaker. There is a complex process to restarting the turbines and a step by step process to gradually introducing the load back into the main transmission line and subsequently the three primary lines. Due to the “brain drain” in recent years Corpolec lacked the technical expertise to properly execute this process. There are four companies globally that have the experience and expertise to properly do it. None of the four were contacted including one that had done work at Guri previously.While nobody would go on record, the prevailing wisdom was that the government couldn’t pay COD and nobody with half a brain would extend them credit as they have screwed pretty much everyone on the planet,countries and companies alike.

 That left Corpolec with the trial and error method which led to the length of the first blackout and the second and third blackouts. If it wasn’t so dire a situation the government’s response would be laughable. First it was a hack,then a high tech electromagnetic assault, then fires set by saboteurs (the usual suspects,of course) Caracas Chronicles said it best in their mock headline “There was another big electric failure in Lara and Yaracuy this week. No wild animal has been charged so far.”

 The government’s absurd explanations aside, a plan was needed going forward. An emergency 30 day rationing plan was put in effect, for the most part excluding Caracas, and most people think it’s the new normal. Power rationing normally means a four hour cut but for much of the country that formula was (is) inverted and they only have power four hours a day. The government said normalcy (whatever that is) would return soon. The spokesman for Sintraedelca, the electrical workers union, disagrees. Other than sticking to their “boogy man” theme there hasn’t been much of a plan except to send workers home early. They have increased security though, to prevent “further attacks.”

 The Electric Ministry’s solution is more like an ideological talking point than a solution. ” Electrical workers will participate in union-related courses with Cuban experts to form socio-political cadres.”Huh? And exactly how does that solve the problem? If a statement from the government’s budget in 2013 is any indication, it doesn’t look good. “All problems will be solved by 2032 incorporating the Popular Power …under socialist values.” So how’s that working out so far?

 It’s also worth noting that 40% of Corpolec’s allocated power output is not charged to anyone. A major contributor to this problem is the Gran Mission Vivienda, Chavismo’s low cost housing project. These houses have no meters! Electricity prices are so low in Venezuela I didn’t pay more than a dollar a month in twelve years! Combine this with a government that is broke and has no credit anywhere and I wouldn’t look for a revenue bump for Corpolec any time soon.

 To be continued….

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