As so many times before the government claims that the blackout that has hit most of the country since yesterday, and is now more than 15 hours long, is the work of wreckers and saboteurs.
The president of Venezuela’s energy corporation, Corpoelec, Major General Luis Motta Domínguez, was the first government official to claim via Twitter (@CORPOELECinfo), that the hydroelectric plant at Guri, which supplies most of the country’s electricity, had been sabotaged “…this is part of an electric war against the State ¿We won’t allow it! We are working on the recovery of the system.” Later, Nicolas Maduro (@NicolasMaduro) posted: “The electric war we have been announcing and which is directed by United States’ imperialism against our people will be defeated. No one and nothing will defeat the people of Bolivar and Chávez. Maximum unity of patriots!”
Power is intermittently returning to some areas of Caracas. Vice-president of Communication, Tourism and Culture, Jorge Rodríguez, has given a few more details of the government’s version of events. He said that this “is the most brutal aggression the Venezuelan people have been subjected to in 200 years.”
“[the attacks] were against the automated regulated system of Guri hydroelectric plant, which provides 80% of the electric energy of the country. (…) The attack altered the software which regulates the generators of the [Guri] Central, which automatically go off as a security measure.”
Rodríguez accused US Senator Marco Rubio of being behind this “cybernetic attack”. His evidence is that Senator Rubio wrote on Twitter (@marcorubio) a little after the blackout started that the main airport in Venezuela was also without energy and that the generators had failed.
But, argued Rodríguez, the “backup generators” to which, according to him Rubio referred to, are not those at the airport but those at the hydroelectric station, “How did Marco Rubio know only minutes after [the blackout] that the backup generators had failed? At that moment, nobody knew that yet.”
Using such hard evidence, Rodríguez said that the Venezuelan government will denounce the “attack” in “International instances.” “This was an attack with a political purpose,” said Rodríguez.
Addressing his followers yesterday in front of the Miraflores palace, Nicolás Maduro said Venezuela’s electric system has suffered at least four different attacks in the past two days: two “cybernetic” attacks, one “electromagnetic”, and a more conventional arson attack against an electric substation in the south of the country.
After the first “cybernetic” attack on Thursday afternoon, said Maduro, “We started to maneuver, and at 7:00pm the process was leading to a recovery, then, suddenly, we suffered an international cybernetic attack against the brain of the electric system, and the recovery collapsed. (…) The first thing we were able to reconnect was the East of the country: Bolívar, Anzoátegui, Monagas, and then we made it up to parts of Caracas. After all that, when we were starting to reconnect [the system] came a new attack. At that time we discovered they were launching latest generation scientific attacks, our experts call them electromagnetic attacks against transmission lines, in order to interrupt the process. (…) This morning, we had reconnected 70% of the country, when at noon there came another cybernetic attack, and this disturbed the system. The people must be aware of who is sabotaging the system.”
Maduro argued that only the United States has the technology for these “Latest Generation Scientific” attacks. “This will be known,” he claimed, “The truth is written in our destiny!”
However, Maduro also claimed that there are many internal saboteurs in the electric industry, “directed from abroad by imperialism,” but they will soon be found and punished. “I ask you for understanding. Yesterday we were able to move forward, but we are facing the power of North American imperialism and of its internal puppets,” he ended his speech.
Opposition Conspiracy Theories?
“Chavismo thrives in chaos.” No sources on this yet, only a couple of posts in Twitter and hearsay: The government is ultimately responsible for the blackout, but not because of its mismanagement of the electric system, but because it purposely “turned off the lights.” The motive for this would be to terrorize the population through a macabre social control experiment.
The Minister of Defense, Vladimir Padrino López, has reaffirmed the government’s version: “the attack against the electric system is causing harm that borders on the massive violation of human rights, among these the rights of people to water and health care. (…) We have received instructions from the Commander in Chief of State [Maduro] to continue our deployment of all the National Bolivarian Armed Forces, which have occupied al electric stations and substations in order to guarantee the supply and guard the system from any other attack that could undermine the spirit of the people,” he declared.
As often stated, this blog is not about debunking conspiracy theories but only monitoring them. However, here are some of the plausible explanations for what happened.
For a roundup of what independent experts are saying read this post by Rodrigo Linares in Caracas Chronicles.
For what anonymous employees of CORPOELEC are saying read this report by María Victoria Fermín Kancev in Efecto Cocuyo.
I copy here the excellent Twitter line by reporter Anatoly Kurmanaev (@AKurmanaev), who was recently near Gury:
I went to the heart of Venezuela’s transmission system in Guarico to try to find out what’s going on with the grid. Here’s why partial blackouts are unfortunately likely to persist for a while. I sincerely hope I’m wrong.
This is Venezuela’s main power distribution hub, the San Geronimo B substation outside Valle de la Pascua on Sunday. It was shut since Thursday. A cow roamed among transformers. No buzz from current. Workers said most of them were sent home indefinitely Friday.
San Geronimo B is the only path for high-voltage (765 KV) supplies from Guri to 80% of Venezuelan population (Caracas, Central & Western Venezuela).
The nearby San Geronimo A back up substation transmits much weaker 400 current from Macagua hydro plant near Guri to Caracas vía Santa Teresa. It’s been working on & off last 2 days. This, together with some limited thermal, is what’s been keeping intermittent light in Caracas.
Corpoelec current, former employees & power expert @SoyJoseAguilar said this is unsustainable. The 400 KV line is too weak.
Caracas outgrew is capacity already in early 80s when it launched Metro.
Is it possible to provide stable supply to the country without San Geronimo B? “Impossible,” said @SoyJoseAguilar
The La Horqueta substation in Villa de Cura, which sends Guri’s power to Valencia and onwards west via San Geronimo was also down Sunday. This is very bad news for Western Venezuela. They are last in line.
San Geronimo B is not working because it’s not getting sufficient (if any) current from Guri. That’s the scariest part. It provides evidence that the government is far from successfully restarting its turbines.
What caused the Guri failure? Corpoelec union leader Ali Briceño said it was brush fire under the 765 KV trunkline which caused a surge in the system and caused Guri to shut down. There are no skilled operators left there to restart it.
It did happen before. No one is cutting grass or maintaining fire breaks under the trunkline.
Briceno’s theory is “possible but not probably,” said one of the people who built that trunkline. Fire would’ve had to occur in a relatively small stretch, between Guri & the first 765 KV substation, Malena, for that to happen.
There are also three parallel 765 KV lines running at a distance from each other. Unlikely the fire would’ve affected them all.
Most people I talked to say the problem had to occur inside Guri’s turbines themselves. And that’s a scary thought. If they are damaged, they will be very hard to replace or repair. No money or skilled people.
One Corpoelec manager said after the blackout a Guri operator told him “the turbines are failing,” before hanging up. He hasn’t been able to reach anyone there since. Sebin is a constant menace.
And without Guri, it’s Mad Max.
The government’s failure to present a coherent explanation is only raising my fears that something really bad has happened. First it was industrial sabotage, then it was cyber attack.
Government has already cancelled classes Monday and @vladimirpadrino said “there’s still a lot to do” Sunday. These are not signs of imminent solution to thisnightmare.