Venezuelans took to the streets Saturday to protest an ongoing lack of electricity and clean water, and to demand Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro consider stepping down, accusing the Venezuelan dictator of “wrecking the economy,” according to Reuters.
Power has been unreliable across Venezuela for years, but the situation has degraded markedly in recent weeks after a power station tied to one of the country’s major hydroelectric dams stopped working, plunging parts of the Venezuelan capital city of Caracas into regular blackouts. Although engineers have attempted to fix the situation, the grid had reportedly been so neglected over the last several decades that restoring full electricity to Venezuelans is not only difficult, it may be dangerous.
WIRED reported several weeks ago that the dead grid would have to be “jump-started,” but that such a move might cause more even more damage, since Venezuela’s aging grid is unlikely prepared to handle the sudden power surge that would rock the system.
Just last week, Maduro instituted mandatory rolling blackouts, allowing citizens of Caracas to use power only in short bursts for the next 30 days, but that made the situation even worse; the power outages have stopped the water pumps that deliver clean water to neighborhoods surrounding Caracas, and the brief, intermittent power bursts are not enough to bring the pumps up to full speed.
As a result, Venezuelans living without power are now also living without clean water, and have resorted to collecting water from streams and puddles and, in some cases, harvesting water from the river that runs through Caracas — one of the most polluted bodies of water in South America. The government has been forced to cancel school, and business in some areas of Caracas has ground to a halt.
This weekend, it appears, Venezuelans have finally had it with their inept government.
“In Caracas, thousands of opposition supporters assembled at a main rally point in the eastern El Marques district. Protesters said their homes had been without water for days and many had taken to drawing it from unsanitary pipes or streams running off the Avila mountain overlooking Caracas,” Reuters reports.
“We have to get rid of this usurper, and we can’t think about anything else,” one protester told the news outlet.
The crowd, Reuters says, had a very specific chant prepared for the occasion: “The water has gone, power has gone, and now Maduro what’s missing is that you go too.”
The protests are the first large-scale protests to hit the capital city in some time. Opposition leader Juan Guaido, who is challenging Maduro’s claim to leadership, has been holding smaller rallies over the last several weeks, but has pressed for more “definitive” protests. He also encouraged disenfranchized Venezuelans to refer to Maduro as “the usuper.”
“We haven’t just come to demand water and power. We’ve come to demand freedom and democracy,” Guaido at the Saturday rally. “We can’t let ourselves become used to this, we can’t put up with it, we aren’t going to let these crooks keep hold of our country.”
Maduro claims that Guaido is a puppet of western democracies, like the United States and the United Kingdom, and maintains that Venezuela’s electric grid is not suffering from poor care, but from a massive “hack” — “cyber terrorism” and “electromagnetic terrorism” — orchestrated by the U.S.