In the second city of Maracaibo, the crippling blackout sparked a terrifying rampage that police seemed unable to control
Some liken the damage wrought on Venezuelas second city to a natural disaster. Others suspect satanic intervention.
El demonio, says Betty Mndez, a local shopkeeper, by way of explanation for the wave of looting and unrest that convulsed Maracaibo earlier this month.
Most, however, describe the mayhem in psychiatric terms: a collective breakdown that shocked this lakeside city to its core and offered a terrifying glimpse of Venezuelas possible future as it sinks deeper into economic, political and social decline.
Horror, fear, despair, said Mara Villalobos, a 35-year-old journalist, weeping as she relived three days of violence that many here call la locura the madness.
I thought it was the start of a civil war.
Her husband, Luis Gonzlez, nodded grimly in agreement as they recalled watching hundreds of looters some wielding axes, sledgehammers, machetes or even pistols move into nearby warehouses, shops and even a church to begin a frenzy of wrecking and theft. It was as if they were possessed, the 39-year-old driver remembered.
Maracaibos madness began on the night of 10 March three days after a catastrophic blackout plunged almost the entire nation into darkness. But it had been long in the making thanks to years of economic and political neglect.
The 1.6 million residents of Maracaibo an oil capital once celebrated as Latin Americas answer to Houston complained of shortages of water, electricity and fuel and a worsening public transport system even before Venezuelas crisis began to accelerate in 2016, with the onset of hyperinflation.
There are communities here that go days, weeks or even months without water, said Juan Pablo Guanipa, a local opposition politician. It is a shattered city.
Protests like power cuts are a daily fixture for maracuchos.Within 90 minutes of arriving last week the Guardian stumbled across a demonstration residents of an inner-city neighbourhood who had barricaded one of Maracaibos main arteries with tires, bricks and logs to protest against the lack of water.
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