[En la] Penumbra

Budapest, Hungary.  Again, most of Venezuela does not have electric power. This is nothing new, in fact, Venezuelans have been dealing with power outages for the better part of a decade, however, last month the country found itself in unprecedented darkness for five days, even longer in some parts, due to the collapse of the electrical system. After that initial shock, there have been constant outages that come with complete lack of Internet, mobile and landline communication. For many of us abroad these outages become a source of anxiety and concern over our family members in the country, specially for those who are in regions outside of Caracas which, historically, experience longer and more frequent blackouts.

After not hearing from our families for a couple of days we try to reach them through video and phone calls to no avail. Contacting them through social media is pointless and when trying to reach neighbors and friends we run into the same dead end. When we check online we are flooded with pictures of deserted streets, reports of children in intensive care units dying and the violent repression of protesters. We get hold of family members and friends abroad but they too have been unsuccessful.

Our despair makes us try every possible alternative possible. After texts go unanswered, calls to landlines become the next best alternative but as the communications system collapsed as well there is no possibility to get through. We scavenge Twitter to see in which ways people have been able to communicate with their families back home, if any. I add more localized keywords and the results get fewer and grimmer.

My family is in Tachira, a bordering state with Colombia, which has experienced the national humanitarian crisis with an additional level of complexity. Power outages along frequent water, fuel, cash, food, medicines and cooking gas shortages makes current daily life unsurmountable. There are some reports of temporary reestablishment of power service in some areas, however, when I try phone service is either unavailable or unstable. As many of the millions of Venezuelans abroad trying to reach our families back home I am trying to remain calm, however, as the blackout continues we are not able to keep our anxiety at bay. When, as a Venezuelan, you have been wired to expect the worse there is no amount of positive thinking that can put you at ease.

Since the onset of the humanitarian crisis, going to Colombia became a lifeline for many that remain in Venezuela as they are able to buy medicines, food and access medical treatment. This option is no longer available due to the Maduro administration’s unilateral decision of shutting down the border in anticipation to the events of February 23rd when Juan Guaidó, the National Assembly president turned self-proclaimed interim president, planned to have humanitarian aid delivered to the country through border pass-points, in direct opposition to Mr. Maduro’s rejection of said help and his denial of the humanitarian crisis. During this event, altercations between protesters and the Venezuelan National Guard in the border ensued, resulting in several deaths, injuries, the destruction of some of the aid and the permanent shutdown of the border.

Just before the electric system collapse my mother and I were planning the logistics of her upcoming trip to Cucuta, a border town in Colombia, to buy medicines to treat potentially life-threatening conditions. This is something that we have been doing for years now as medicine shortages in Venezuela became so alarming that access to her treatments was compromised. In 2015 when Mr. Maduro first unilaterally shut down the border with Colombia for a year a special permit was needed to cross over to buy medicines or get medical treatment. Following its reopening we would go every couple of months to stock up on some goods and medication and after I left the country my mother and I plan these trips remotely.

The electric system collapse puts in evidence what many at the border think, that Juan Guaidó’s standoff against Maduro over the humanitarian aid only made things worse for the ones inside. The border has been a source of support not only for people in the area but across the country to access medication, medical treatment, remittances and food that is no longer available in Venezuela. What is even more frustrating for many is that after the arbitrary shutdown of the border neither the government nor the opposition, led by Mr. Guaidó, have even mentioned its reopening as part of their political agendas.

Days into the unprecedented blackout it is inevitable for us outside the country to be consumed by concern over our families, grief over how much our country has been destroyed and anger over the incapability of any of the political leaders to substantially change anything for the better. 

For many of us, who have one foot outside of the country and one in, this situation adds to the list of our constant list of worries: from being able to find a job, renew our passports, save enough money to send back home to even remaining with a legal status. Planning for the future is a constant source of anxiety as every aspect of our lives is tied to the collapse of the Venezuelan institutions. Yet we have to carry on, whether it is with work, with writing our dissertations or attending classes our failure would mean adding to our family’s burden.

The thought of hearing our families’ voices again makes us emotional. I fully expect my family to tell me that somehow they found ways to make things work. That at a limited capacity they were able to cook, to preserve their food and to even have their vital cup of coffee. Yet part of me is preparing to hear the worst. To, for the first time be confronted with the hard reality that we cannot find our way out of this and that, at a personal level, the damage done by Nicolas Maduro is irreversible.

Carlos Pérez Rojas.

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