“You can’t blame the Maduro government, but as for the United States, this Donald Trump is mean. He’s mean and he’s blocked a lot of things. We have to support each other and this U.S. blockade has to end.” — Yolimar Contreras
Yolimar Contreras lives in a poor barrio, on the hillsides of Caracas, with her husband and her young son, in this two-room cinderblock home.
She’s lived here for 7 years. They used to have running water. At least, fairly often. But not anymore.
Resident, Altos de Lidice
“We haven’t had water for 3-4 months, because we’re high up on the hillside.”
It hasn’t stopped her from washing the floors, but now in order to get water, they have to carry it up. One 23-liter jug at a time. She’s not alone. Water is out across major portions of the neighborhood.
Resident, Altos de Lidice
“All week long you see people carrying water by here. Saturdays and Sundays, in particular, when people are off from work.”
Here’s the problem. The pump needed to push the water up the hill and into their home. Well, it’s broken. And U.S. sanctions are blocking the country from acquiring new pumps, motors, pipes and replacement parts.
In Venezuela, they call it the “blockade”. That’s what it feels like.
According to many residents, the Venezuelan government is doing what it can to mitigate the situation. Twice a week, it sends a tanker of potable water to the neighborhood, down the hill from Yolimar’s home.
Some residents here say they’ve been without running water for a year and a half. They pour into the streets with their waste-high buckets, to wait their turn for their containers to be filled.
Comuna Altos de Lidice
“There’s a pump that’s broken and they are working on fixing it. The vice minister came yesterday and she said they are working on it. You need to have three pumps and only two are working, so because of a lack of pressure the water isn’t getting here.”
The residents say they’ve always had issues with water, but it’s never been this bad.
Across town, on the opposite end of Caracas, sections of Petare, the city’s largest poor barrio, are also facing the same reality.
Hundreds of thousands of homes are out of water. This is one of the pumping stations that should be pushing the water up to many of them. But it’s missing most of its pumps. There’s only enough water pressure to fill up the trucks outside.
Municipal Councilwoman, Caucagüita
“Because of the international economic blockade the United States has imposed on Venezuela it’s been impossible to buy the pumps, because the Venezuelan government has tried to send the funds twice in order to acquire the pumps, since we don’t have them here, because of the blockade. And it has never worked, because they have blocked the companies and the countries that have been trying to help us.”
President Donald Trump intensified sanctions on Venezuela in August 2017. According to Venezuela, the U.S. government has frozen $5.5 Billion U.S. dollars of Venezuelan funds in international accounts in at least 50 banks and financial institutions. Even if Venezuela could get the money abroad, the United States has threatened to sanction foreign companies for doing business with the country.
This is not an isolated reality. According to officials at the state water company Hidroven, as much as 15-20% of the country is facing water shortages due to U.S. sanctions. We’re talking about millions of Venezuelans without potable running water, because of the U.S. government.
Maria Flores is the Vice President of Operations at Hidrocapital, the Venezuelan state water company for the capital, Caracas.
“With the blockade, we have had situations, where we have the pumps and the motors and they are about to ship and then comes the all-powerful hand of the United States and they block the money in the bank or sanction the company that is working with us, just for selling us this equipment. What they don’t see is that they are affecting people’s lives. It’s not Chavez. It’s not Maduro. It’s the Venezuelan people that are waiting to have access to water.”
They have come up with short-term solutions to the long-term problems. They have installed cisterns for homes in many communities that have been without water for longer, like this neighborhood in Petare. See those plastic blue tanks? Here, the water trucks can fill up the water tanks of each home directly, even when they are without running water.
But the blockade, and the lack of parts for vehicles is also impacting the number of water trucks Hidrocapital can keep on the road. Maria Flores says their fleet has been reduced by 75% over the last three years.
“We had a fleet of 20 water trucks a few years ago. Now we have 4 or 5. It has all been reduced, because of the blockade.”
Most nights of the week, Maria Flores and her team are holding meetings with communities across the city, trying to resolve the lack of access to water for low-income communities, which are facing the most severe shortages. Many of these meetings are not easy. Residents are upset. Water is not something you can do without.
But Maria Flores and her team know the importance of their relationship with the community. Water working groups in poor neighborhoods around the country were key in helping the government to bring direct access to potable water to 96% of the country’s homes, up from 80% twenty years ago, before president Hugo Chavez was elected.
But they are fighting an uphill battle. Hidroven says that most water storage facilities around the country are working at 50-60% capacity. Over the last three years, the influx of water into Caracas has been reduced by nearly 30%, because of failing pipes and pumps, and the inability to maintain the system, because they need equipment from abroad. Equipment they just can’t get, because of the Trump-imposed U.S. sanctions.
And this is the clear goal of the U.S. government. To tighten the grip and make the Venezuelan people suffer, with the hope that they will get fed up and rise up. The Trump administration would have you believe that the blame lies on Venezuelan incompetence, but many Venezuelans are just not buying it.
“You can’t blame the Maduro government, but as for the United States, this Donald Trump is mean. He’s mean and he’s blocked a lot of things. We have to support each other and this U.S. blockade has to end.”