Venezuela power outage raises tensions amid crisis

Venezuela suffered a massive blackout that started on 7 March at 16:45 (local time), affecting at least 22 of its 23 states. The widespread power cuts caused transportation/infrastructure and business disruptions that lasted for almost six-days in various part of the country, fueling already heightened social and political tensions.

The power cuts came at a time when social and political tensions remain high in Venezuela amid hyperinflation and shortages of basic goods. Since January, Juan Guaidó, head of the opposition-controlled congress, invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency, arguing Nicolás Maduro’s 2018 re-election was not legitimate. The international community support is divided between Guaidó and Maduro’s claim over power. Pro- and anti-government demonstrations in Caracas and other major cities have become common occurrences over the past months prompting disruptions to traffic and business activities.

Venezuela relies on its vast hydroelectric infrastructure for its domestic electricity supply. The cause of the massive blackout has been attributed to a fire that destroyed one of the main lines that transports power from Guri dam to the rest of the country. Nicolás Maduro administration has accused opposition leader Juan Guaidó and US government of organizing a cyber-attack against the country’s electrical system. Whilst international analysts and other experts suggest that decades of underinvestment have damaged most of the country’s infrastructure, with sporadic blackouts becoming a common occurrence, with Caracas been spared from them until recently.

The immediate consequences of the blackout were diverse, the country faced disruptions to telecommunications (internet and telephone services), water supply, transportation, business activities, medical services and heightened levels of criminality with more than 500 shops looted in Maracaibo alone. The country is now more exposed than ever to future blackouts, as the network has been further weakened.

The US government has announced a plan to impose further financial sanctions that could prohibit Visa Inc, Matercard Inc, and other financial institutions from processing transactions in Venezuela. Other sanctions including a US embargo on Venezuelan oil exports will go into effect on 28 April, which is likely to further weaken the country’s economy, as the US accounts for half of the oil exported. In addition, Venezuela’s land and maritime borders are closed following last month’s humanitarian aid showdown further hindering business activities.

Pro- and anti-government demonstrations are likely to continue in the coming weeks, as both leaders enjoy from a large support both at home and abroad. One thing seems likely; there is no clear end in sight to conflict between pro- and anti-government supporters, as a crippling hyperinflation and decaying infrastructure continuously hinders business activities in the country. Since 14 March the United States withdrew its remaining diplomatic staff from Venezuela.  Travelers in Venezuela should be aware of the various risks to which they are exposed: Power and water outages, medicines shortages, lack of consular services (US citizens), high criminality and recurrent violent demonstrations among others. Safeture has and will continue providing with real-time security alerts on security related incidents and will keep on updating its users with relevant information to keep travelers in Venezuela safe and well informed.

 

Following is a timeline highlighting Safeture report during Venezuela’s six-day blackout.

7 March:

Venezuela: Power outage in several cities 7 March triggers disruptions

8 March:

Venezuela: Update. Flights at Simon Bolivar International Airport, Maiquetia suspended

Venezuela: Pro-opposition rally expected in the capital Caracas on 8 March

Venezuela: Update. Power outages continue nationwide

9 March

Venezuela: Update. Opposition protest planned in Caracas on 9 March

11 March:

Venezuela: Several airlines suspend operations to Venezuela due to power outages

Venezuela: Update 5. Nationwide opposition protest planned on 12 March

12 March:

Venezuela: Update 6. State of alarm declared by Congress as blackout continues

Continue monitoring the Safeture app for more updates on the situation in Venezuela.

 

Camilo Téllez Robayo

GWS Analyst
Security risk analyst based in Lund