Do The Math

 We’re headed Down The Rabbit Hole in a minute but first…Metro US reports that supporters of the referendum to recall Nicolas Maduro have asked the TSJ (Supreme Court) to review the conditions set by the CNE (Electoral Council). The referendum needs 4.2 million signatures. The CNE says that supporters can only collect signatures for 12 hours on January 26th and only at 1,200 authorized locations. So, if you do the math, supporters would need to process 5 voters per minute for 12 hours at all 1,200 locations to reach the required number of signatures.

 Venezuelans aren’t big on doing the math as we saw when they kept borrowing money from China with each successive $5 billion guaranteed by future oil shipments. Even the Chinese finally had to back off when the Chavistas had already committed to delivering more oil than they were producing. Maduro’s solution to the water problem didn’t fare any better (as we’ll see in this week’s Down The Rabbit Hole segment). “We’ll just use water trucks.” Sounds good until you crunch the numbers. A delivery would have to be made every 3 seconds around the clock to supply the needed water.Now we have this by the CNE.

 Even by Venezuela standards this seems blatantly unfair (uhh… impossible!). The question is, what will the TSJ say? If we go by their track record it doesn’t look good for the referendum but hey, you never know. If the TSJ doesn’t do anything the Venezuelans will have to wait until 2024. With Maduro’s approval rating at 13% and polls saying 7 out 10 Venezuelans would favor a recall a fair and honest referendum would likely see Maduro recalled. What are chances the Chavistas will let that happen? Probably about the same as the odds of a free and fair election in 2024. Just look at the polls…do the math.

 And in the “It’s that time again” category we have Human Rights Watch reporting that the UN Human Rights Council is reviewing the Venezuelan government’s Human Rights record through a process called the UPR (Universal Periodic Review), which comes up every four years (or so). Based on the last two reports from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the UN it’s hard to believe the review could show anything positive. The question is, what would happen? Well, since the Chavistas have failed to implement the recommendations from 2011 and 2016 my guess is we’ll have another set of recommendations which the Chavistas won’t implement either.

 In another UN related matter, remember last week when the UN suspended the voting rights of Iran,Venezuela, and several other countries for non-payment of dues? Well, Iran’s voting rights have been reinstated thanks to payment of their dues through assets that were released from frozen accounts in South Korea. No word of Venezuela although their tab was the highest coming in at $40 million past due. We’ll keep you posted.

 And in a distressing bit of news from the US southern border, Newsweek reports that a 7 year old Venezuelan child has been drowned after being swept away from her mother attempting to cross the Rio Grande. Yes people, it is a dangerous proposition making the trip across Central America and up through Mexico to try to enter the US illegally.

 In financial news we have AFP reporting that the US Treasury Department has extended the protection for Citgo, owned by Venezuelan oil company,PDVSA, shielding it from creditors for the time being. It’s just a bone being thrown the way of Juan Guaido, who the US recognizes as Venezuela’s legitimate president.

 Now, Down The Rabbit Hole we go….

 The first day or two actually unified much of the population.Food that would spoil was cooked and shared by those that had gas or access to wood/charcoal fires. People shared candles, kerosene lanterns, etc.Many neighbors became closer since they interacted more as they had to be outside. It was just too hot inside their homes. That positive effect was short-lived as soon desperation set in. After a couple of days it’s only human nature to ask “How long is this going to last?” With little communication available via telephone, TV,radio, etc. people didn’t know when, or if, help was coming and they responded as people do all too often. Scenes all over the country looked like something out of “Mad Max.” It was truly 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,and those with generators in their homes and businesses ran out of fuel. Back-up generator systems in hospitals broke down as they were meant to provide power for hours, not days. Surgeries were completed with whatever lighting was available which in some cases meant using lights from smartphones. No dialysis, chemo, radiation therapy, 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 transaction most transactions were (and are) done with debit cards or bank transfers using smartphones. 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 in between blackouts and following the third one the government’s response 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 that was wrong with the country. “It’s right-wing terrorists” or “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 explanations, with numerous references to the imperialist oligarchs, were behind the hackers that attacked the Guri dam’s 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 couldn’t erase what they might say. The main sources for the reality of the situation would come from around the world. CORPOLEC (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 electric power in Venezuela. The massive turbines generate power that leaves Guri 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 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 that power diverted to the remaining two lines. They overheated and shut down as well.Now comes the tricky part. To restore service 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 for 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, with the experience and expertise to do a job like this. None of the four were contacted including one that had done work at Guri previously.While nobody would go on the record, prevailing wisdom was that the government couldn’t pay COD and nobody with half a brain would extend these guys credit as they have pretty much screwed everyone on the planet, countries and companies alike…

 More tomorrow….

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