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: August 20, 2019 - 8:42am

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

August 20, 2019 - 8:42am

The US Navy is ready to "do what needs to be done" on Venezuela, a top commander said Monday, as America ramps up pressure on the crisis-wracked country. 

US Southern Command chief Admiral Craig Faller made the remarks in Rio de Janeiro as the United States kicked off its annual UNITAS maritime exercise involving nine Latin American countries as well as the UK, Portugal and Japan. 

"I won't speak to details of what we're planning and what we're doing, but we remain ready to implement policy decisions and we remain on the balls of our feet," Faller told reporters.

"The United States Navy is the most powerful navy in the world. If a policy decision is made to deploy the navy, I'm convinced that we'll be able to do what needs to be done."

His remarks came just weeks after President Donald Trump said he was considering a "blockade or quarantine" of the Latin American country.

Trump subsequently intensified sanctions on Venezuela this month, ordering a freeze on all government assets in the United States and barred transactions with its authorities. — Agence France-Presse

August 17, 2019 - 11:16am

Analysts say threatening to bring forward parliamentary elections is the latest card played by Venezuela's regime to put pressure on the US-backed opposition at the negotiating table.

The National Assembly is the only branch of government under opposition control, and elections are not scheduled until December 2020.

But Diosdado Cabello, the most powerful regime figure after President Nicolas Maduro, set up a committee earlier this week to study the possibility of calling parliamentary elections at the start of next year. — AFP

August 9, 2019 - 6:23pm

Venezuela has deployed around 3,500 soldiers and police to its border with Colombia to combat fuel and drug smuggling, a top military official says.

Caracas broke off ties with Bogota in February over its support for opposition leader Juan Guaido in his power struggle with President Nicolas Maduro that has ground to an impasse.

Thursday's deployment in the western state of Tachira was part of an operation being carried out across the country, head of operational strategic command Admiral Remigio Ceballos told reporters from the Tienditas border bridge, which has been closed since February. — AFP

August 3, 2019 - 9:20am

Mediator Norway says representatives of Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido "reiterated their willingness" to resolve the country's political crisis during talks in Barbados.

The delegates arrived on Wednesday for a third round of talks in Barbados in negotiations that originally began in Oslo in May.

Three weeks ago the rival factions agreed to set up a platform for "continuous" negotiations. — AFP

July 26, 2019 - 2:36pm

The US Treasury Department announces sanctions against three of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's stepsons, a Colombian businessman and six others for running a "corruption network" that profited from emergency food imports.

The US has in recent months escalated sanctions against Venezuela, which is struggling with a political and economic crisis that the United Nations says has left a quarter of its 30 million people in need of humanitarian aid. 

The new restrictions target Maduro's stepsons Walter Jacob Gavidia Flores, Yosser Daniel Gavidia and Yoswal Alexander Gavidia Flores, whom the US says collaborated with Colombian businessman Alex Nain Saab Moran and his business partner Alvaro Pulido to profit off importing emergency food into the country as it struggled with rising malnutrition. — AFP

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