Enough is enough for Venezuelan after blackout store robbery


Caracas (AFP)

After thieves took advantage of a power cut to loot her store, Margarita Jardin has decided enough is enough: she wants to leave Venezuela.

"I've told my husband that I've decided to leave. I've been thinking about it for years but the time has come," a tearful Jardin told AFP among the chaos of her ransacked printing and photocopying store in eastern Caracas.

Venezuela was plunged into darkness on Thursday after a massive electricity blackout paralyzed almost the entire country.

With security cameras out of order, no surveillance in the neighborhood and pitch darkness, thieves broke into Jardin's store and made off with a computer, three printers, the cash register, the electronic payment terminal -- vital in a country where cash is scarce -- and some snacks.

The prospect of trying to rebuild a 20-year-old family business in crisis-wracked Venezuela is too much to bear.

"I don't want to leave my country but I will, you can't live in this apathy," said Jardin, 41, who also earns less than $10 a month as an architecture professor.

Of Venezuela's 23 states, 22 were hit by the blackout, which the government of President Nicolas Maduro blames on "imperialist" saboteurs attempting to force the socialist leader from power.

His detractors say the government is responsible for failing to invest in infrastructure.

Power cuts are a regular problem in Venezuela, which also suffers from other failing public services such as running water and shared transport -- as well as food and medicine shortages.

This, though, was the worst outage in the country's history.

- Solar panel queue -

Telephone and internet services, public transport, water and fuel supplies all collapsed due to the blackout, while the government suspended both the work day and school classes.

Health unions also reported difficulties treating hospital patients.

A group of neighbors in the Los Palos Grandes neighborhood of Caracas queued from early in the morning to recharge their cellphones on a solar panel at a public square.

"We spent the night with candles, my family are all at home because they couldn't go to work or to study," Alexis Sabala, 62, told AFP, before dismissing regime claims of sabotage.

"It's a lie, they're always looking to blame someone. The real reason is the poor state of the network, and the lack of maintenance and investment."

The streets of Caracas were half deserted on Friday, the metro had ground to a halt and only 10 percent of buses were operating.

"It's a lost day for the whole country. Another day of delay," said Carlos, a motorcycle taxi driver.

His colleague Jonathan added: "I'm praying because the little we have in the freezer will defrost and then we'll be screwed."

- 'Home on foot' -

Judi Bello spent the little cash she had and took three buses to her job as a bank security guard -- but it was in vain, as the doors remained closed.

"I'll go home on foot as I don't have any more cash. I came without food because I left what there was for my two children," the 42-year-old told AFP before embarking on the six-hour trudge home.

She has to make do with the minimum wage of around $6 a month, barely enough to buy two kilograms of meat.

Soon her 18-year-old daughter will emigrate to Peru -- joining the 2.7 million Venezuelans to have left the country since 2015 -- to seek work so she can send home a remittance.

Bello will remain behind with her 13-year-old son, who is recovering from a stab wound to the heart she says was inflicted by a 10-year-old trying to steal his flip-flops.

"I don't even have enough to buy candles, they're very expensive," she said.