With the crisis in its sixth day, neighbors are sharing generators, contraband renders and abilities for survival
At a street corner in eastern Caracas, Rosa Elena stepped from her vehicle and started picking handfuls of leaves from a modest tree growing at the roadside.
” This is neem ,” she said.” It’s high in sugar and great in a tea .”
Her interest was more than academic: Rosa Elena is diabetic, and when the suns went out in
Venezuela last Thursday, she began to worry that the blackout would ruin her insulin supply, which must be kept refrigerated.
Since then she has been making rounds of the city, stockpiling neem foliages, which some people believe can be used to control diabetes.
As a crippling blackout drags into a sixth day, Venezuelans are being forced to improvise answers for a crisis that is affecting every aspect of daily life.
Although there is intermittent power in the capital city, some neighborhoods have been in the dark since last week, and colleges and business will remain closed on Tuesday.
Food has rotted in refrigerators, hospitals have struggled to keep equipment operating, and people gather on street corners to pick up patchy telephone signals.
At Residencias Karina, an apartment complex in the south-eastern municipality of Baruta- the power was still off on Monday evening, and residents had come together to share expertise and survival tactics.
One elderly resident has given his generator to the operation, with cables operating up the side of the red-brick building into a flat where neighbours charge their telephones. To stop the device overheating or get rained out, they have fashioned a covering out of cardboard and tarpaulin.
In ordinary hours,
petrol is practically free in Venezuela, due to government subsidies. But power cuts have set many pumps out of action, and gasoline is hard to come by. It is illegal to fill jerry cans at petrol station, so people are often forced to resort to the black market to obtain fuel for generators.
” The government calls it contraband- we call it survival ,” said Carolina, one resident who preferred not to give her surname for dread of reprisals.
Members of the Bolivarian National Police escort a tanker as they help coordinate the distribution of drinking water to residents of San Agustin neighbourhood in Caracas on March 11, 2019, while a massive power outage continues affecting parts of the country. Photograph: Yuri Cortez/ AFP/ Getty Images
Another neighbour, Pedro Martinez, was once a farmer in the country’s vast western plains, and has brought his own unique skillset to the team.
” I’m a
campesino ,” he said.” I don’t know about phones and I can live without them. But I do know how to salt meat .” Martinez has been turning the residents’ supplies of beef into jerky, so food supplies can last longer.” The chicken and the fish people had is already rotten ,” he said.
Late on Sunday night, the housing complex was rocked by a string of detonations after an electrical substation capture flame in circumstances which remain unexplained.
” It sounded like a plane taking off ,” said Carolina, as the reek of burnt plastic floated across from the smoulder power plant.
The explosion added to a sense of desperation in a neighbourhood that had already seen outbreaks of looting. Residents have mounted sentries to warn of the government security forces and paramilitary gangs called
colectivos , who they fear will take down their jerry-rigged infrastructure.