Venezuela's Electric System
Electricity in Venezuela is a monopoly. It’s entirely managed by government-run corporation Corpoelec, nationalized in 2007. Almost 80 percent of Venezuela’s power is produced at the Hydropower Guri Dam, inaugurated in 1974 and located in Bolívar state (southern Venezuela).
Currently, the Maduro regime claims that the massive apagón (country-wide blackout) on March 7, 2019 was a result of “a cyber attack” perpetrated by the opposition and the U.S. government. However, no proof has been offered (a member of the pro-government National Constituent Assembly assures the U.S. got inspired by the technology shown in Bruce Willis’ Die Hard). As of March 13, 2019, days after Maduro assured they had resolved the so called sabotage and stated that “victory of recovering the electric system was in our hands,” many states, including Zulia and Táchira, were facing over 8-hour power shortages.
Minister of Agriculture Wilmar Castro Soteldo still encourages people to learn how to make “canned food” out of meats and fruits because it can be preserved without electricity.
Overdue Investment and Lack of Specialized Labor
Chávez once promised he would invest 21 billion dollars to generate 15,000 MW in order to improve the system and guarantee uninterrupted power service, as he had done previously in 2008 with the announcement of a $513 million investment. Most of those projects were never carried out, as noted by AP.
Venezuela is considered one of the most corrupt countries in the world, ranking 168 out of 180 in the Transparency International’s 2018 Corruption Index. Although the money for the projects was allocated, sources state it ended up in the pockets of pro-government officials, also known as enchufados, as demonstrated by the Derwick Associates scam.
The Consensual Thesis
Days after the second blackout, AP reported: “Engineers have warned for years that Venezuela’s State-run electricity corporation was failing to properly maintain power lines, letting brush that can catch fire during Venezuela’s hot, dry months to grow near and up the towering structures.” This kind of warning is anything but new. Back in 2016, Vox wrote “Since 2000, the country has failed to add enough electric capacity to satisfy soaring demand, making it incredibly vulnerable to disruptions at its existing dams.” Experts also believe that Venezuela produces even less electricity than it did 20 years ago, due to poor maintenance.
Even ‘dissident chavistas’ such as Rafael Ramírez, former Minister of Energy of Venezuela (2002–2014), agrees. Ramírez, who was also Director of State-run oil company PDVSA, tweeted in Spanish: “Guri has collapsed due to lack of maintenance, just like the thermoelectrics, and the lines of transmission and distribution. The government’s incompetence and negligence has dragged us into this total collapse. Just like it happened within PDVSA. The interests of a group prevailed over those of the country. Incompetents!”
Those who are familiar with the Guri’s system affirm that it’s “almost impossible” for a cyber attack to be the cause of the failure, reports Associated Press. Experts with deep knowledge of the hydroplant’s functioning explained to AP: “Computers that operate the monitoring system are not connected to the internet and can only communicate with each other, making them immune to an outside attack.” According to them, the only way to possibly execute such scheme would be to physically access the substation where the system is located, and even then it is very unlikely. These areas are inaccessible because they are under the control of and guarded by the Venezuelan Armed Forces.
It is true that, historically, there have been incidents where injerence has caused a loss of power—as shown in the NYT 1973’s report about a US-Backed Blackout Interrupting an Address by Chile’s Allende. However, in Venezuela’s case there’s evidence enough that supports negligence and lack of maintenance as the causes of the electrical collapse that keeps Venezuelans in the dark and suffering.
In April 2019, Maduro announced power rationing due to the crisis. Each user would have to endure a four hour suspension of power daily for approximately 40 days. However, several states continue to face power cuts that range from six to 18 hours every day. No plans or investments in the electrical system have been announced to date.