Venezuela’s Energy Dependence Trap: Towards Communal Management and Independence

José Roberto Duque, in the 1930s, the CADAFE company arrived in the town of Bailadores, in Mérida, to carry the scoop on electricity (a matter known in a few towns in Venezuela), the inhabitants laughed out loud. For them, this was no first; for several years a son of that town, named Luis Zambrano, had been lighting his house and running his metallurgical workshop with a turbine moved by water, and designed and manufactured by himself. That same compatriot, a peasant about whom evidently not enough has been said, or whom we have not stopped in the country the slightest ball, gave the people of Canaguá a public lighting system that worked for 30 years, from the decade of the forties to the 70’s, and is still operational today and keeps a few light bulbs on.

I repeat: we are talking about events and people of the 1930s. Does anyone have a single explanation about why, almost a century later, and with the country full of technologists and engineers (as well as raw material counted in thousands of tons) we don’t have a country full of electric generators?

In Venezuela, thousands of Local Supply and Production Committees (CLAP) exist or at least are registered. You don’t have to be very clever to realize that it’s time ( or a while back it was time) to create and organize in the country the CLEE (Local Electric Energy Committees). And for what, if they have already repaired the Guri and everything is normalizing?

It is a question that must be answered with a single stroke. Because history is teaching us the basics of the expression and the idea of Independence. You are not independent because you sign a document that says you are independent. You will be independent when you show in the facts that you do not depend on anyone (much less your enemy) to move and subsist.

Venezuela’s definitive independence inevitably involves eliminating our energy dependence, and that will only be possible if we find local solutions to replace the fragile monster based on the Guri dam. The day we execute in national chain the demolition of the Guri dam and the country continues working, that day we will be able to say with a little more of propriety that we are an independent country.

” We” are attacked in the Guri system, rendered useless or severely damaged, and three quarters of the country runs out of power. Food, water, communications, fuel, cities suddenly become unfeasible chimeras, difficult to reach or to operate.

I used quotation marks in the previous paragraph. No, Guri is not ours, it is not Venezuelan, it does not belong to our people or to our class. It was constructed this way, an elephant, a monstrously dependent fool, so as to be able to control it. Who can control the Guri? Well, the same people who designed and manufactured it. It is a technological complex built by a class (the hegemonic class) and a vision of the world (industrial capitalism), so it will never belong entirely to the humble people, much less to the country and much less to a socialist project.

If centralizing the largest nationwide energy source became a problem, or was born a problem, the most simple logic indicates that decentralizing and democratizing energy would be the solution, or one of the solutions.

It might make sense that the Guri would feed the east of the country, including the devouring monster or energy reconverter that is SIDOR and the basic industries, but do the Andean states really need the stability of a reservoir located more than a thousand linear kilometers away to be supplied with electricity?

Trujillo is next to Mérida and Barinas, and only 30 percent of its electricity supply depends on the Santo Domingo reservoir, located more or less on the border of those neighboring states. The other 70 percent comes from Guri.

A city like Boconó depends entirely on Guri. Boconó is that town at the foot of which flows one of the most torrential rivers in the west of the country, the Burate River. Why is it impossible or even difficult to build an electric generator in that place?

Caracas is probably one of the most dramatic cases of energy wastage, because of the nonsense that originates in the water supply.

Just over 70 percent of the water consumed by Caracas, an average of 900 meters above sea level, comes from a source 300 meters above sea level; the Camatagua reservoir in Aragua is also 100 kilometers away. Bringing water to Caracas means moving by electric pumps many thousands of liters of water every day. Is Caracas viable as a sociohistorical construction? A topic for discussion later (after several more blackouts and droughts).

Regionalizing energy management? How about one great source of energy per state? And why not rather deepen and expand energy management to municipal, communal, neighborhood and even house by house?

Towards communal energy management

A rebellion consists of moving away from the system. A Revolution consists in shattering and destroying the system. To conform to the system or to improve it is mere reformism.

The enemy has just taken pleasure in attacking Venezuela’s virtually single source of electrical power, its virtually sole generator of current, and here we are still suffering, trying to recover from the blow. I would like to see the enemy trying to disable each of the millions of generators built, maintained and managed by communities, blocks, buildings, families. Those generators would not be computerized nor would they depend on servers created and controlled by hegemonies. Let the gringos or NATO or the forces of nature or the threat of force come to disable 5,000 active generators in Caracas, one in each block, or two million generators throughout Venezuela. And what does it take to manufacture a generator or to put it into operation?

To manufacture it, we need parts and pieces that have already been manufactured: accumulators, dynamos, alternators, coils and capacitors.

To make it work, all that is needed is something that is free and that is surplus on the planet: movement and sources of movement. The Ministry of University Education, Science and Technology has a detailed list of popular technologists living in Venezuela, with their telephone numbers and addresses. It is time to give this list something more than institutional use, namely to summon these people to an official annual meeting to talk about their inventions or ideas.

In Barquisimeto (37th Street, near Venezuela Avenue) a few months ago I had to go to a mechanic with a mechanical problem that threatened to render my car inoperative because of lack of available resources; the thing had its oil pump damaged, and that’s serious. Very serious and very expensive. In the other Venezuela, the one of abundance, technicians recommended buying another oil pump, but not everyone can afford it. I explained the situation to the mechanic and asked him, almost hopelessly, if it was true that this piece is impossible to remake, if I should go and rob a bank to buy another one. He replied, “Look, mate, if that piece was made by an extraterrestrial then maybe I can’t make it. But if a man like me made it, then I can make it for you. Stop by tomorrow at 2:00 p.m..The piece was produced at the tenth of what it would have cost me to buy it new, and it already travels 60 thousand kilometers to get me everywhere.

But beyond the practical result and the saving of pennies, what lifted my morale, more than any slogan, song or speech by Chávez or Che, was the attitude of that son of this people: if you are human, you can do it.

Energy is not created from nothing and does not return to nothing. One law states that energy is not destroyed, it is transformed. It takes a potential amount of energy to convert it into electrical energy. As the system and paradigm have been overwhelmingly embedded in Guri we might then tend to believe that only the energy of moving water can produce electricity, but we know about all the generating experiments: solar, wind, nuclear, fuel, diesel ( like thermoelectrics work). Caracas doesn’t have large watercourses or waterfalls close enough; this doesn’t mean that it can’t or shouldn’t look for alternatives.

Everyone can see multitudes of citizens who cannot imagine what to invest their physical energy in and who decide to invest it in the very important mission of burning fat and having a slender or athletic form. They pedal, jog, lift weights, move devices that challenge and shape their muscles; they exercise. Count the number of kilocalories these people “burn”, and imagine all that energy converted into electrical energy. It is not impossible or even difficult: there is already reports of gymnasiums in which the hard-working athlete moves from bicycles a set of pulleys and chains which end up running in mills: body energy converted into food. What very complex or esoteric step must be taken from this simple act to connect these chains and pulleys to a generator or dynamo, from there to an accumulator and from there to the devices we want to put into operation?  Don’t small dynamos already exist that light the light bulb so that a solitary cyclist can light the way?

The corporal force of hundreds or thousands of people would perform the task of the Andean rivers that served Luis Zambrano to make his small but monumental revolution. Through this logic, a human being could become the generating source of electricity for a house, or for two. Multiply that person by any amount you want. I, who am lazy and older, could pedal enough to charge a telephone and light a couple of light bulbs. Consider a million citizens; when the enemy wants to perpetrate another national blackout it will have to neutralize or kill a million people. Will that be easier or more difficult than disabling a stupid giant like the Guri system?

Local Electric Power Committees: when will that first neighborhood or family meeting be held?

It is not too late to formulate these proposals, nor to materialize concrete initiatives. This should not be the work of a government, but a collective act of the people.

Translation by Internationalist 360°