Darkness lingers for Venezuela's most vulnerable

Associated Press

CARACAS, Venezuela (March 15, 2019) — Darkness has yet to lift for 72-year-old Elizabeth Guzman and thousands of her poor neighbors in a forgotten corner of Venezuela’s capital that was barely getting by even before the lights went out over a week ago.

As the sun sets each day, Guzman lights a homemade oil lamp and holds it in one hand as she navigates the stairs and narrow passages up to the windowless room that she calls her “little cave.”

“I’ve never seen a crisis like this. It’s the first time,” said Guzman, who is malnourished and frail. “It makes me so sad.”

Venezuela’s power grid crashed on March 7, throwing almost all of the oil-rich nation’s 30 million residents into chaos. Many struggled to find cellphone signals to call loved ones, the Caracas metro ground to a halt, hospital services collapsed, and massive looting was reported across the country.

While power eventually surged back to life across most of Venezuela, residents in the hillside Caracas slum of Santa Cruz of the East say they are losing hope they’ll ever have lights again.

As a result of a second explosion at a substation near the slum, manhole covers were blown into the air, flames burst into the night sky, and charred electrical machinery smoldered for days.

Irritated residents have been left to see the darkness as a symbol of their misery.

Guzman, whose health troubles and age prevent her from working as a housekeeper, says she moved to Santa Cruz of the East from a nearby neighborhood last year after her home of 43 years burned in an electrical fire.

Now, each time she lights her oil lamp, she fears a terrifying repeat of the day when she lost nearly everything.

On a recent evening, Guzman held up a candle to illuminate pictures of her two sons and grandchildren.

She had already unplugged her microwave, toaster oven and television in case a surprise power surge sparked another fire.

“I’ll sincerely tell you that I have no hope this will ever get fixed,” she said, managing to smile. “Never.”

Guzman’s meager government pension equals $6 a month, which enables her to pay rent equivalent to 66 cents.

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