"This Country Has Gone to Hell": Total Chaos in Venezuelan Oil Capital After Blackout

Venezuela's oil capital, Maracaibo, was ransacked and looted in the midst of a blackout that hit the country around March 7. Even as the lights started to come back on, looting continued and residents overpowered disputed President Nichloas Maduro's security forces. Store owners are just now starting to clean up, according a new Bloomberg article, which paints a picture of Venezuela as a country on the edge of total anarchy. 

Enrique Gonzalez, an 18 year old bus conductor said: “If people made enough to make ends meet, we wouldn’t be trying to get by like this. This country has gone to hell.” His driver, at the time, was pillaging a Pepsi warehouse, where thousands of bottles had been looted in hours and where people were now ripping out spare copper wire and scrap metal. 

Empresas Polar SA, a Venezuelan food giant, reportedly saw its Pepsi plant lose thousands of cases of beer and soda, 160 pallets of food, 22 trucks and five forklifts. A home improvement shopping center also saw its 50 stores looted by people who broke through its iron gates and glass doors. Travel agencies, cosmetic stands and snack shops were all pillaged among the chaos. 

Bernardo Morillo, 60, who built and manages the mall told Bloomberg: “It’s hard to swallow. The national guard stood by as this vandalism happened and the firefighters didn’t even show.’’

Ricardo Costa, vice president of the Zulia state chapter of the Fedecamaras business group said: "...security forces were useless as people took anything of value, including cash machines, door frames, ovens, computers and surveillance cameras..."

The country's Centro 99 food market saw looters pick its shelves clean. “They even carried off the lard and flour to bake bread in their bare hands,’’ the store's manager said. 

The looting started last Saturday afternoon after an ice company, on a hot day, demanded that it be paid in dollars. A crowd instead tore through its factory and then continued onto nearby pharmacies and stores. By the evening, the entire city was taken over by people seeking out life's necessities by any means necessary. 

The country's blackout took an already flammable situation and threw a match on it. Maduro's handling of the situation has prompted the U.S. and other nations to instead recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as the rightful head of state. Maduro has concentrated his power, in the form of resources and troops, in Caracas, the country's capital. But the recent chaos in Maracaibo, a city of 1.6 million, shows the rest of the country is in tumult and not even the largest cities are safe. 

Maduro baselessly blamed the blackout on a U.S. cyberattack last week. 

When power was restored, many transformers and substations wound up bursting into flames. There were long lines of people at water trucks, streams and burst pipes. As far as protection, "a single municipal squad car was seen" during a day of looting in the city - and the officers within warned that "no protection" was on its way. 

Costa continued: “How is it possible that a thousand guardsmen are deployed to repel 50,000 protesters, but when a thousand looters come to a mall only 50 were sent?’ You could say this began because people are hungry, but the looters didn’t take just food -- it morphed into aimless vandalism.’’

"Everyone knows that working here means working in anarchy, that anything can happen to you at any moment," one local watchman said while watching his store disintegrate in front of him. 

“They’re pulling wires, air conditioners, pipes -- they’re literally running off with the roof.’’