Comisión para los Derechos Humanos del Estado Zulia

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Chaos in Maracaibo: Grave situation due to national blackout



Junio 20, 2019

In the Venezuelan state of Zulia, electrical service was first interrupted in many neighborhoods on Thursday, March 7th at 1:00 pm. By 5:00 pm the entire region was without power, mirroring the condition of the rest of the country.  More than 100 hours later, around 9 pm on Monday, March 11th, service began to be restored, although voltage fluctuations and blackouts persisted on the following day. The Commission for Human Rights of the State of Zulia (Codhez) reported that some sectors of Maracaibo, the capital of the state, were without electricity for 125 hours, that is, until 9 pm on Tuesday, March 12th.

Faced with this national blackout, in the context of what is a complex humanitarian emergency, Codhez warns that the rapid deterioration of access to basic goods and services, widespread acts of violence, and the presence of armed civilian groups threaten the lives of Zulians. Health services were particularly affected by the national blackout, where 32 of 34 public hospitals in Zulia were already at risk of becoming inoperative.

In addition to rendering it impossible to shop as usual (limiting access to basic goods and services), the blackout has resulted in looting in supermarkets and other commercial establishments. This intense escalation of events has caused a situation of generalized violence. There has been a clear lack of response on the part of the state security forces, which have not guaranteed public order or the protection of establishments that sell food and medicine. Some police and military officials have even actively participated in the looting.

With the support of the Human Rights Network of the State of Zulia (Redhez), Codhez verified and recorded data that highlights the difficulties of various health centers to provide services as well as the serious looting that took place in various businesses throughout Maracaibo during March 7- 12th.


Collapse of Maracaibo health centers

During the national blackout, an operating room at the Maracaibo Children’s Hospital (Hospital de Especialidades Pediátricas) was outfitted with a power generator, providing energy to a floor where two children were hospitalized. However, this was insufficient to power the air conditioning of the chemotherapy ward, where twelve children were unable to receive their treatment on Monday. On Sunday, March 10th, seven people died at the University Hospital of Maracaibo (Hospital Universitario de Maracaibo) due to avoidable complications resulting from the lack of electricity. At the General Hospital of the South (Hospital General del Sur), emergency admittances were restricted to only the most serious cases. Nevertheless, between Monday and Tuesday, three children died of malnutrition, including a child of the indigenous Yukpa people.

The Noriega Trigo Hospital, under the management of the Venezuelan Institute of Social Security (IVSS), only had two nurses on duty on one of the nights of the blackout. At the Adolfo Pons Hospital (also under the IVSS), only the internal medicine service remained in operation, although the hospital continued to refer patients to other centers.

The Western Dialysis Center (Centro de Diálisis de Occidente) ceased services because it did not have a power generator, reporting the deaths of at least four people who were treated there. In another dialysis center, Dialysis Unit of the Lake (Unidialca), located in the southern end of the metropolitan area of ??Maracaibo, a patient was found dead on Tuesday, March 12, after six days without receiving treatment. This unit does not have a generator or potable water. At the same time, the General Hospital of the South had 50 dialysis machines that remained inactivate during the situation, only two are operative for patients with hepatitis.


The Looting of Maracaibo

Since Saturday, March 9th, the metropolitan area of ??Maracaibo has experienced looting in many of its supermarkets and other businesses, including butchers, delicatessens, and bakeries. Looting has continued even after the restoration of electricity in various parts of the city during the early hours of the morning on Tuesday, March 12th. According to Fedecámaras Zulia, looting has taken place at 22 supermarkets, 30 bakeries, and more than 300 stores located in shopping centers and private sites.

State security forces have not guaranteed the public order, allowing looting of supermarkets and shopping centers that are of great importance to the population’s food supply. In some cases, it has been reported that police and military officials have participated in the looting. In all parts of the city, serious acts of violence have been reported, including the use of firearms by civilian groups, without any type of police protection and, at times, the complicity of public servants. The violence has been particularly serious in La Curva de Molina and the surrounding areas of Beltway 2 (west of Maracaibo) where looting and clashes with firearms have not stopped.

In these circumstances, Codhez demands an effective official response that guarantees that Maracaibo households can access food and other essential goods as soon as possible. Codhez reiterates that this access is already limited by the living conditions caused by the complex humanitarian state of emergency affecting the nation. Additionally, in a food security survey conducted in 2018, 46.8% of the population reported that they buy their food daily and 15.9% reported buying food four times a week. Given the limitations of purchasing with a debit or credit card resulting from failures in the electrical service that have affected telecommunications, it has been almost impossible to buy food unless you have a large amount of cash in bolívares, which are scarce, or in foreign currency – mainly, US dollars. The exhaustion of small food supplies in homes combined with the impossibility for many to shop has made some people desperate to obtain food, water, and ice to preserve meat and medicine. Although the electricity has been restored, the looting worsens this situation.

Before the blackout and looting, there was already a great shortage of food – which reached a rate of 72% of frequently consumed foods between October and January in Maracaibo – and during the blackout certain businesses raised their prices substantially and charged in foreign currency. Bottles of five liters of gasoline were sold for USD $8 around the Plaza de Toros in Maracaibo (north), a refill of a five-liter water bottle costs USD $1 or 3,500 bolívares, and a new bottle with water cost USD $16. In some places, the cost of charging a cell phone battery rose to USD $1 for ten minutes.

Codhez urges the international community to be on the alert as to what is happening in Zulia and to protect the rights of the Zulian people, particularly those who are most vulnerable, as well as the safety of journalists and human rights activists.


March 13th, 2019


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