Venezuelans cross the blocked Simon Bolivar international bridge, in Cucuta, Colombia, in the border with Venezuela, as others watch from the bank of the Tachira river, on April 2, 2019. After the level of the Tachira River rose, the "trochas" -illegal trails- were flooded and Venezuelans who needed to cross to Colombia and back, climbed containers and walked through the blocked Simon Bolivar bridge in a desperate attempt to go through.
AFP/Schneyder Mendoza
Rich and poor united in desperate quest for water in Venezuela
Alexander Martinez (Agence France-Presse) - April 3, 2019 - 10:17am

CARACAS, Venezuela — Crippling power blackouts are subjecting Venezuelans to a second phase of deprivation -- massive water shortages that make no distinction in income or social class, forcing rich and poor alike to wait in long lines for drinking water, while some hoist it from sewers to be able to flush their toilets.

On the hill in the Caracas neighborhood of Petare -- the country's largest slum home to more than half a million people -- hundreds of people line up day and night behind two wells.

They carry anything that can hold water -- drums, cans, bottles, buckets. When their turn comes, they take as much as they can.

The water is not drinkable, but it will allow them some dignity, to bathe or wash clothes.

For the past month, repeated massive blackouts have plunged the country into darkness and disarray. As a result, electric water pumps have shut down, forcing a cut in water supplies.

'No water'

"We have no water, no electricity, the power cuts are terrible. Food is going bad," says 78-year-old Ernestine Velasco as she recites a litany of deprivation in her modest house, located on an unpaved street in the March 24 district.

"We are having a bad time. There is no transport, there's nothing."

Lack of water is a chronic problem in this teeming corner of Caracas. Though the cost is minimal, the service is non-existent, Velasco says.

"Thank God, we have this," she adds, pointing to the two wells nearby, though "it's chaos, it makes you want to run away."

Locals are waiting for the state water company to restore supplies. Even then, they expect it will only be for a few hours.

"We are dry. We don't have a single drop," said Carmen Moncada, tipping over an empty drum.

A little further on, in the district of El Valle, a crowd formed around a manhole, drawing up water for their toilets.

President Nicolas Maduro has ordered electricity rationing for the next month in a bid to buy his engineers time to fix the problem, which he blames on opposition sabotage designed "to drive the country crazy."

The working day has officially been shortened to ease the strain on the grid and allow people to get home before dark. Schools that have been shut since March 26 are expected to reopen on Wednesday, however.

Prohibitive price

In a Caracas park where a water tanker is dispensing supplies, a lawyer from the upscale northern neighborhood of La Castellana arrives to buy the whole tanker-full for his apartment building.

The driver of the 1969-era truck, which holds 2,100 gallons (8,000 liters) is quick to name his price: "For La Castellana, it's $200."

Despite the prohibitive price -- Venezuela's minimum wage is just over $5 -- the lawyer doesn't argue.

"This is the price we have to pay to stay in Venezuela," said the 42-year-old lawyer, who declined to give his name.

He said he would have to collect the money from his remaining neighbors, a third of whom have joined the exodus of 2.7 million Venezuelans the United Nations say have have left the country since the economic crisis began in 2015.

One possible solution for the lawyer and his neighbors was to sink a well to tap the aquifer at nearby El Avila hill, but that would cost $20,000. Right now, the cheaper solution is the tanker.

Every day, people fill up from streams running from the hill.

William the driver gets his water at a spring in the city's Eastern Park -- with government approval -- forming a line with other tanker drivers.

In return, they must make three free trips on the government's behalf to distribute water in various parts of the capital. The army enforces the agreement.

But in poor areas like March 24, the trucks are slow to arrive, playing on the nerves of locals like Carmen Veliz. She says that in other areas nearby, there has been no water "for months."

Such exasperation drove hundreds of people onto the streets Sunday to beat pots and pans in a display of outrage in different parts of the capital. 

At least three people were injured in clashes with police and pro-government armed "colectivos" sent to tamp down the protests.

"What is the government doing? Neither one thing nor the other," says one woman.

Referring equally to Maduro's rival Guaido, she adds: "No one comes to help us...they are all useless."

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: September 19, 2019 - 7:38am

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro accuses Colombia of being behind an "attack" with an explosive-laden drone he said targeted him on Saturday (Sunday, Manila time).

Speaking shortly after state television showed him cut off mid-speech in front of a Caracas military parade by a bang, Maduro says a "flying object exploded in front of me" and blamed the incident on Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos.

"It was an attack to kill me, they tried to assassinate me today," Maduro says in a state broadcast. "I have no doubt that the name Juan Manuel Santos is behind this attack." — AFP

September 19, 2019 - 7:38am

Venezuela's socialist government calls on the United States to restore diplomatic ties with Caracas after it opened talks with fringe opposition parties.

Venezuela broke off relations with the United States after Washington recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as interim president on January 23.

Vice President Delcy Rodriguez tells reporters in Caracas that it made sense for the US "to restore diplomatic contacts and dialogue with the government" of President Nicolas Maduro. — AFP

September 18, 2019 - 1:24pm

Venezuela has released key opposition figure Edgar Zambrano from jail, where he had been held since a failed uprising in May, Attorney General Tarek William Saab announces Tuesday.

Zambrano -- the vice president of the National Assembly -- had been held in a military prison since his dramatic arrest for supporting a failed April 30 uprising organized by opposition leader Juan Guaido.

The government petitioned the Supreme Court to release Zambrano "following partial agreements reached by the Venezuelan government and sectors of the national opposition," Saab says in a statement. — AFP

September 18, 2019 - 7:27am

Venezuela's opposition-dominated National Assembly ratifies Juan Guaido as the country's interim president until new elections can be held.

The endorsement comes a day after the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said its lawmakers would return to the legislature, which they abandoned three years ago.

The vote represented "unrestricted political support for the leadership of Juan Guaido as president of the National Assembly and as president in charge... until the cessation of usurpation occurs," according to a statement from the National Assembly.

The decision implies that US-backed Guaido, recognized as interim president by more than 50 countries, will continue to head the legislature after January 5 when his term ends. — Agence France-Presse

September 14, 2019 - 2:55pm

Venezuela is "ready" to defend itself, Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza says, after Washington invoked a regional defence pact that might justify such a move.

"We are ready to protect ourselves, we are ready to react," Arreaza says in a news conference after meeting in Geneva with UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet.

"We will let no one trample sacred Venezuelan soil, we will respond and hope that never happens," the minister says. — AFP

September 12, 2019 - 3:19pm

The United States has invoked a regional defense pact Wednesday with 10 other countries and Venezuela's opposition after "bellicose" moves by Nicolas Maduro's regime.

A request to invoke the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (TIAR) came from the Venezuelan opposition, said a statement from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, retweeted early Thursday by President Donald Trump. — AFP

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