Power Failure and Blackout: An Update on the Situation in Venezuela

By Lambert Strether of Corrente

Currently, Venezuela is undergoing a country-wide blackout. Here’s an image (via Agence France Presse):

And here is an animated image of what’s happening to the Internet in Venezuela as the power failure waxes and wanes:

The situation as described by Reuters: “Venezuela shuts schools, businesses as blackout enters second day“:

Venezuela shut schools and suspended working hours on Friday after the capital Caracas and other major cities awoke without electricity for a second day due to a problem that struck the South American country’s main hydroelectric plant [, the Guri Dam]… “This is a severe problem. It is not just any blackout,” said Luis Martinez, a 53-year-old walking to work in eastern Caracas.

“A problem that struck.” Note lack of agency. And so the agent would be…

On Thursday, the Minister of Electric Energy Luis Motta Domínguez attributed the difficulties at the hydroelectric plant to “sabotage”, without providing further details.

Thinking back to, say, the way we sabotaged Iranian nuclear centrifuges with the Stuxnet worm, it’s not prima facie demented to claim sabotage on a similar project; further, sabotage of the Venezuelan grid, at the substation and transformer levels, is not unknown. That said, I can’t find any claims being made for the type of sabotage — software for the power generating facility? Physical sabotage of the dam, as with high explosives or even an air strike? — or any reports from the ground. Bloomberg:

The sabotage allegations simply aren’t credible, according to [Miguel Lara, a former director of Venezuela’s power grid]. Guri, he said, is heavily guarded and a virtual attack could have been repaired by isolating faulty equipment.

Isolating faulty equipment did not work in the case of Stuxnet, and might not work given insiders who could provide schematics to the software engineers designing malware.

But all this is pure speculation! Fun, but we’ll have to wait for the real story (if indeed we ever know it). In this post, I won’t present a general theory of whatever it is the administration is trying to to accomplish in Venezuela (besides irredentist Latin votes in Florida), or their methods (probably unsound. For an overview, see NC here). Instead, I’ll look at a splendid prank that may reveal at least what is in National Security Advisor John Bolton’s mind, how we managed not to actually invade Venezuela, revealing anecdotes about life under the tyrannous Maduro, and conclude by urging that Maduro may be stronger than is being reported.

The Prank

Reagan-era thug Eliott Abrams, fresh from his beat-down by Ilhan Omar, was totally p0wned by Russian pranksters pretending to be the Swiss President:

The U.S. envoy for Venezuela dismissed the possibility of American military action in the South American country in a recording made by two Russian pranksters and released Wednesday.

Special Representative Elliott Abrams said in the recording that the U.S. wouldn’t use force in Venezuela unless the government did something “completely crazy” like attack the American Embassy.

But Abrams, who apparently believed he was speaking with a Swiss official, said the U.S. seeks to “make the Venezuelan military nervous” by not publicly ruling out military action to oust President Nicolas Maduro.

“We think it is a mistake tactically to give them endless reassurances that there will never be American military action,” he said. “But I can tell you this is not what we are doing. What we are doing is exactly what you see, financial pressure, economic pressure, diplomatic pressure.”

The recording was made by two Russian comedians, Vladimir Kuznetsov and Alexei Stoyarov, as one of the men posed as a Swiss official speaking with Abrams about efforts to seize Venezuelan bank accounts as part of an effort to compel Maduro to cede power to opposition leader Juan Guaido.

“Economic pressure”… like sabotaging the Venezuelan power grid? Anyhow, while it’s good to know that Bolton, at least says he’s not contemplating an invasion, it’s not clear whether that’s the result of a sudden outbreak of sanity, or because we don’t have the ability to do any such thing. Because–

The Butchered Invasion

From the following Bloomberg story, “Heavily Armed Soldiers Aborted a Plan to Enter Venezuela by Force“:

Late last month, as U.S. officials joined Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido near a bridge in Colombia to send desperately needed aid to the masses and challenge the rule of Nicolas Maduro, some 200 exiled soldiers were checking their weapons and planning to clear the way for the convoy.

Led by retired General Cliver Alcala, who has been living in Colombia, they were going to drive back the Venezuelan national guardsmen blocking the aid on the other side. The plan was stopped by the Colombian government, which learned of it late and feared violent clashes at a highly public event it promised would be peaceful.

Almost no provisions got in that day and hopes that military commanders would abandon Maduro have so far been dashed. Even though Guaido is back in Caracas, recognized by 50 nations as the legitimate leader of Venezuela, the impromptu taking up of arms shows that the push to remove Maduro — hailed by the U.S. as inevitable — is growing increasingly chaotic and risky.

“Highly public event.” So Branson’s stupid concert was good for something? Anyhow, if we can’t get 200 guys across a border… Doesn’t anybody here know how to play this game?

The Yoke Of Tyranny

This is pretty simple:

So Guaido is swanning about Caracus, hugging his wife and trying to overthrow the government, and The Tyrant Maduros hasn’t had him whacked? GTFO. And then, there don’t seem to be any food shortages in the luxury malls of Caracas:

I mean, given that Venezuela exists under the sway of a brutal tyrant determined to impose a kulak-like fate on Venezuela’s Beautiful People, why do luxury malls even exist? Instead of being charred ruins. Again, GTFO.

Conclusion

From Venezuelanalysis, “Interview with Union Leader Stalin Pérez Borges: It Will Be Very Difficult to Defeat Us“:

The anti-imperialist sentiment of our people is historic and runs very deep. It will be difficult to defeat us. It will be very difficult to convince a majority of the workers and poor people to accept the raising of the US flag, as Guaidó and the political leaders of the right that accompany him have done in their public demonstrations. Since the oil strike of 1936, which almost became a national strike against the British and Yankees, and the military dictatorship, a very deep anti-imperialist sentiment has grown, which was rebuilt or revived for more than fifteen years with the message of Chávez. A rebellious sentiment appeared here that hasn’t stopped since February 27 and 28, 1989. This has found expression in the decisive, fearless struggle of April 13, 2002 [when an attempted military coup against Chávez was defeated], and in the response to the bosses’ strike and oil sabotage [in December 2002-January 2003]; in all the resistance we have done, not letting the right wing oust Maduro by force.

This guy isn’t a union leader like in, say, the AFL-CIO national office. You may or may not agree with his viewpoint, but Borges is quite critical of the Maduro government, and share a lot of history. One curious fact that stands out in the blackout reporting: There were no reports that I can find of looting; tthat’s such an obvious narrative that it would have instantly propagated via stll-charged cellphones and Twitter that I can’t help but think that Venezuelan society is on a more solid footing than presented in the press and by our political class.

And for contrast, let’s look to the IMF: “IMF Comments on ‘Complex’ Venezuela Situation“:

The International Monetary Fund on Thursday called Venezuela one of the most “complex situations” it had ever seen.

IMF spokesman Gerry Rice described Venezuela and its economy as a combination of “food and nutrition crises, hyperinflation, a destabilized exchange rate, debilitating human capital and physical productive capacity, and a very complicated debt situation.”

Rice said tackling this challenge would take “strong resolve” and “broad international support” from all 189 IMF members.

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde told The Economist Radio, a podcast, that the fund would help “as soon as we are asked by the legitimate authorities of that country.”

“We will open our wallet, we will put our brain to it, and we will make sure our heart is in the right place to help the poorest and most exposed people,” she added, calling the task it faced in Venezuela “monumental.”

“help the poorest and most exposed people.” ‘Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished. More:

Rice said Thursday that the IMF had yet to determine whom to recognize as the leader of Venezuela — President Nicolas Maduro or opposition leader Juan Guaido, the self-declared interim president.

Note that the Rice says they’re waiting for a request by “legitimate authorities,” but they don’t know who those authorities are. (Also, although there only 50 countries have recognized Guaido (if recognized is the word I want), although there are 189 IMF members, who may have views of their own about who the legitmate authorities in Venezuela are. All this seems to be taking rather a long time. Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria: Alll debacles. Now Venezuela? Seems like there’s more than one power failure going on….

APPENDIX

Here’s some useful reporting from the ground in Venezuela — notably lacking in the mainstream press! — from Max Blumenthal, interviewed by the redoubtable R.J. Eskow:

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.

70 comments

    1. RBHoughton

      There was a popular American political soap called “Scandal” that run for seven years ending quite recently. In one episode POTUS turns off the electricity in Moscow to achieve a diplomat victory. In another he turns of GPS to prevent Israeli airplanes from bombing Iran.

      It seems these steps in disrupting a nation’s infrastructure are well known in Washington DC and considered as a ‘ruse de guerre’ regardless of the effective on hospital equipment, traffic control and money transfers.å

      Reply
    2. bob

      Bad analogy, pardon the bluntness.

      Stuxnet specifically targets programmable logic controllers (PLCs), which allow the automation of electromechanical processes

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stuxnet

      Scada controllers can be thought of as herding lots of small controllers into one big control block. Power generation works in almost the opposite way- A few large generators feeding lots of smaller users.

      The end users of power systems are numerous, and that end of things is very difficult to target as there is no networking of them in the sense that people use the term “networking” today. Distribution transformers don’t need to be “controlled” they are steady state ‘dumb’ machines.

      Reply
    3. Ken

      The simplest cause of the Venezuelan power failure is the most likely–
      –lack of money to buy replacement parts, and
      –lack of skilled technicians to repair the machinery. The technicians may have emigrated like 3 million of their countrymen.

      –Occam’s Razor–.

      The excuse about sabotage is the easy way to try to deflect blame from the corruption and incompetence of the Maduro regime.

      Reply
      1. ambrit

        Oh come on now. Maduro is just following in the footsteps of many pro-American regimes from the history of Central and South America.
        Occam’s Razor works in terms of logic driven processes. Here we have a political ideology driven process; the opposite of logical.
        Also, since this is America’s ‘Backyard,’ the possibility of dirty dealing on the part of the regional hegemon is always a top contender for ‘truthiness.’

        Reply
  1. PlutoniumKun

    The Guri Dam is vast – its installed capacity is around 10GW so if its something serious, that power will be almost impossible to replace – it represents nearly half the countries hydropower which in turn supplies about 65% of total electricity to its grid. Apparently it even exports via interconnections to Colombia and Brazil. In the past has apparently had problems during droughts, but I don’t think Venezuela is under drought conditions now.

    The dam has multiple turbines so I think it would be highly unlikely that a problem would be mechanical in origin – if there is sabotage it would be of the electricity infrastructure. There have been cases in the past where power infrastructure has been cyber attacked by routing excess electricity through vulnerable transformers, essentially blowing them out. I would guess this would be the simplest and most deniable form of sabotage if this is indeed what has happened.

    Reply
    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > routing excess electricity through vulnerable transformers

      I poked around for examples of past sabotage, and transformers were one. So, speculating very freely, a Stuxnet-style attack that took out a number of transformers simultaneously would probably be hard to cope with, rather like Puerto Rico after the hurricane.

      Reply
      1. ambrit

        How long before someone does us the courtesy of doing the same to America? This doesn’t seem to be a tactic restricted to State sponsored ‘actors.’ Almost a tailor made tactic for “Eco Terrorists,” no?
        John Brunner’s “The Sheep Look Up,” or “Stand on Zanzibar” level stuff.
        It is somewhat off-putting to realize how prescient those mid twentieth century science fiction dystopian writers were. Much less the cyberpunks.
        One can make the argument that commenters from this late date are ‘cherry picking’ the sci-fi literature of the twentieth century. However, there is so much to pick from, and the major works chosen for reference were recognized as such in their own times.
        Cynical old me remarks that one can not go too far wrong in assuming the worst.
        I, personally, am amazed that humanity has not destroyed itself yet. Give it time.

        Reply
      2. Chris

        There’s one other avenue you have available with hydro compared to other energy installations. If you have control over the valves and and turbines, and if there are any structural issues with the dam, you can cause it to fail. Some of the deadliest energy related accidents have been at hydro facilities. I mean deadliest in terms of loss of life both in the plant and downstream. If you really wanted an excuse to destroy a small government and invade under humanitarian pretenses, you’d be hard pressed to find a better cover than a dam related explosion and collapse.

        Here’s a brief account of the recent Russian sample I’m thinking of in this case.

        Reply
        1. bob

          YUP

          They can be sabotaged individually, but that would take lots of time and effort. Except for a few weird ones, off the shelf replacements are usually stocked and waiting for deployment within a few hours, tops.

          Reply
          1. fajensen

            Beg to differ.

            A regional-size transformer for example, 130 kV 63 MVA, will take somewhere between 6 months and 2 years to get manufactured and installed depending on how urgent the need is and how much they manage to screw up procurement (which always happens). These things are all made in Korea now, they are delivered as sea transport only to certain ports, adding another pain in the bottom.

            A 63 MVA unit will weigh about 70 tonnes without the oil (another 15 tonnes or so). In most places where these types transformers are installed, they must first put down a lot of 2″ steel plates to make a road hard enough for the transports to drive on!

            On the whole, this is not an easy drop-in job even in a 1’st world country and when no one are shooting at you!

            Reply
            1. bob

              “Except for a few weird ones”

              based on numbers of transformers, the more common ones are also the most numerous.

              Yes, larger, one off transformers are difficult to replace, which is why they tend to be very well protected. Protection can be in the form of fuses, which when they go, sound like explosions.

              Reply
        2. fajensen

          Was. Today everything has a digital management system, fewer interlocks are hardwired because the bean counters have been told that some more money can be eked out by “safely” overloading the equipment based on a thermal model. If the sensors lie a bit, then it will cook.

          If one wants to disable a large transformer, with the old management systems from the 1950’s, then continuously operating the tap changer would be one way.

          Reply
  2. Eclair

    “One curious fact that stands out in the blackout reporting: There were no reports that I can find of looting; ”

    Oh, Lambert! A couple of Bolton’s minions just smacked their heads and muttered, “We forgot to order the looters!”

    Reply
  3. Edward

    Wait a minute. I thought Guaido’s big line was that he was struggling to save Venezuelans with his humanitarian aid. Now he is using a blackout against the country?

    Reply
    1. False Solace

      Yeah, so, are we meant to be not suspicious about the crazy convenient timing of this major nationwide power outage? And the people actively trying to topple the Venezeulan government while resorting to collective punishment must totally totally have the interests of the Venezuelan people at heart, amirite? Hence the reports of hospitals manually respirating preterm babies after the generators went down. (I mean, one is naturally reminded of the infamous Kuwait incubator lie and feels a bit wary — but since when does a 24+ hour power outage not seriously impact the sick and infirm?) What convenient timing for the opposition, they so clearly want the best for Venezuela’s people. /s

      Seriously, wtf.

      Reply
  4. Plenue

    “Interview with Union Leader Stalin Pérez Borges: It Will Be Very Difficult to Defeat Us“

    Venezuela is never going to go back to being like it was before Chavez. If nothing else the Bolivarian Revolution has left behind a huge population that is both literally and politically literate. Even if the right were able to take over the country again, I seriously doubt it’s ever going to return to the old status quo the rich long for.

    Reply
    1. James

      I had a really interesting discussion with a guy in Guatemala a couple of years ago – and we went through all of the Latin American countries and he said exactly what you said … the Gringos won’t be able to turn Venezuela into a Guatemala or Honduras because the people there have been so well educated (or “indoctrinated” if you want to see it from John Bolton’s point of view).

      Reply
      1. bob

        Venezuela is also very well armed. Lots of guns. Civilian guns.

        Anyone who thinks that the US should drop troops in there should be first in. They’d be sniped off in a few minutes. The troops behind them would face a long, terrifying wait for another shot out of nowhere.

        This should be better known.

        Reply
  5. ex-PFC Chuck

    I’d like to know what the state utility currently has for an energy management system (EMS).* These are the computer systems that continually adjust the system-wide generation to match the load plus losses, and also assure sufficient transmission and distribution resources are in place to move the power from the generators to that widely dispersed load. Perhaps our spook friends are surreptitiously putting back doors and kill switches in place for “contingencies” such as this. EMSs are almost always equipped for onsite back up and in many cases offsite as well. However the back-ups typically run identical software.

    Back in the late ’80s they bought one from the Control Data EMS division while I was an employee there. It’s probably been replaced and/or upgraded at least twice over since then. The CDC business unit was later bought by Siemens, is still located in the USA and does a considerable amount of world wide business.

    * This term is more commonly known as referring to systems that efficiently manage HVAC, lighting, etc in buildings and campuses. This is something completely different. Recall the last time there was a major power outage in your area and the local TV station reported on it from a place that looked like a NASA space flight control room. Two or three or more consoles, each with two or three screens, some showing diagrams, others tabular data, and a grid of large screens covering most of a wall or two with more diagrams and numbers here and there.

    Reply
  6. Joe Well

    I am shocked that 50 governments could have formally recognized Guaidó as president when his claim is so weak. Aren’t they afraid of getting egg on their faces when the truth is revealed?

    As for the well stocked shops, well stocked is relative, and the opposition claims that the boli-bourgeois + black marketeers + people getting remittances from outside the country are the only ones with money. I don’t think these are luxury malls, just malls. Latin America, like Asia, seems to have waaaaay more malls than the northeastern US in my experience.

    As for looting, for decades Caracas has led the world in violent crime, it may be that people have already defended things so much there’s not much wiggle room. One of the most striking things about Caracas is how many windows are behind bars, even by Latam standards.

    Reply
    1. Acacia

      Probably a number of those fifty are more worried about their how their imperial masters *cough cough* partners in Washington would view such an “indiscretion”.

      Reply
      1. NotTimothyGeithner

        Don’t forget. Chávez replaced the colonial successor government and elites. Western elites might be okay with token representation among their circles as long as a certain whiteness is achieved, but brown people running things on their own? Preposterous. They also expect the little people to be overwhelmed with joy at the prospect of white saviors. They have appropriated words such as “democracy” and “human rights” making those words largely meaningless. Trudeau currently still one of the heads of the government’s that recognizes Goofus came into office and started to break promises he made to First Nations. It’s their default setting.

        Reply
        1. Joe Well

          You could argue that Maduro and his circle were the “white saviors” of Bolivarianism and ran it straight into the ground.

          Reply
  7. lyman alpha blob

    Thanks for this – this is the first I’ve heard of this blackout which seems odd. Or not. Just looked at Fox, MSNBC, and yahoo home pages and not a word I could see about this story. If it’s there you’d have to do a lot of scrolling or searching to find it. You’d think that the US would be crowing about this infrastructure breakdown as proof outside assistance is needed. The fact that the major news outlets are not doing so is quite telling.

    Reply
      1. integer

        CNN is now reporting on it, complete with footage of babies in incubators in a dark room. Very difficult to believe it wasn’t sabotage.

        Reply
  8. The Rev Kev

    Could this be an own goal here? When you think that the opposition is basically the wealthier, whiter part of the population and the loyalists those of a darker persuasion, who does this blackout affect most? Who owns those businesses that have to close, who depend on the internet to conduct business. Does Venezuela have its own stock market and are they able to continue operations? What about ATMs in the wealthier areas? Can they access their bank accounts? Are they too sitting in candle light in their darkened neighbourhoods?
    So, who gets hit hardest by blackouts? Those in richer areas with their businesses or those in the barrios? This might serve as a reminder to the opposition about what is possible in the chaos of a civil war and their pocket nerve must be starting to ache by now. Its all fun and games supporting Greedo until you find yourself sitting in the dark by candlelight watching a freezer full of food quickly defrosting. Are people rushing generators to Greedo so that he does not have to suffer in the dark as well? Can he still get his word out if the blackout is effecting communications and net coverage? Will there be blowback for all this?

    Reply
    1. Skip Intro

      My thoughts exactly! I doubt anyone in country believes it is anything other than sabotage, and that will quickly undermine the bourgeoisie support coup plotters and their rich uncle. I imagine both sides can use the cover of darkness to undertake operations that they’d rather not have broadcast. Who has the tactical advantage in the case that the gloves briefly come off and the reporting is silenced? This strikes me as an opportunity for a little shock therapy. It will be interesting to see what has changed when/if the lights come back on.

      Reply
    2. Joe Well

      You have a point, but I would guess that those who can afford to have generators (I haven’t looked into the reports on the ground). That’s how it usually works in the less developed parts of Latam.

      Reply
  9. jax

    “So Guaido is swanning about Caracus, hugging his wife and trying to overthrow the government, and The Tyrant Maduros hasn’t had him whacked? GTFO”

    Oh, Lambert. What would we do without your?

    Reply
  10. gwb

    The power grid failures in Venezuela could also be due to drought; this has been going on for several years. The long-term drought predictions for much of Central and South America are not good, in large part due to climate change. We can thank the West’s profligate consumption of fossil fuels for this.

    Reply
    1. charles 2

      You mean Venezuela, where oil sector is 25% of GDP and 95% of exports, should complain about profligate consumption of fossil fuels !?

      Reply
  11. charles 2

    I mean, given that Venezuela exists under the sway of a brutal tyrant determined to impose a kulak-like fate on Venezuela’s Beautiful People, why do luxury malls even exist? Instead of being charred ruins. Again, GTFO.

    I went to the USSR just before the coup that brought Yeltsin into power. Nominally communist, dysfunctional, and plenty of luxury shops around taking dollars. How is Venezuela different ? Maybe it is a farce, not a tragedy in there…

    Reply
    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > How is Venezuela different

      My point is that if the Chavistas were as sans culotte-ish as they are said to be, why do the malls in the wealthy areas even exist? Why not burn them to the ground, like the Tuileries under the Paris Commune. Nothing to do with Russia whatever.

      Reply
      1. Joe Well

        What the opposition Venezuelans say, over and over, is that Bolivarianism is fake socialism with “boliburgueses” (Boli-bourgeois) of corrupt officials who steal from the government + a few existing wealthy people who aligned themselves with the regime. (Also, many Venezuelans are depending on remittances from abroad which are worth much more than they would be internationally because of the exchange crisis.)

        There is some truth to that but there is also truth to the fact that the Chavez era did bring great concrete improvements to many people and that previous governments were corrupt anyway. Also, the root of Venezuela’s problems is that they are dependent on oil exports and oil prices have collapsed below that which PDVSA can pump them profitably, even if the opposition hadn’t sabotaged the industry. There’s going to be a long-term collapse of the economy no matter who is in charge, and I think that a lot of the middle and upper classes can’t cope with that and are projecting a lot of their anger onto the government which is horribly corrupt and abusive anyway.

        Reply
  12. EoH

    Has anyone seen press coverage of what the redoubtable CIA is doing in Venezuela? Normally, when the US wants to overthrow an insufficiently grateful Latin country, the CIA is active in it or in neighboring countries, supporting, training and encouraging would be insurrectionists.

    It was apparently active during the Chavez regime, but I have seen no coverage of it this time around. Widespread power outages are a routine way to destabilize a regime without the apparent use of force. Venezuela would seem to be a target well-suited to that form of disruption.

    Reply
  13. charles 2

    Apart from discussing the merits of “They would say that, wouldn’t they” on both sides of the argument, I direct you to an informative post from Euan Mearns, a regular of the defunct “Oil Drum” site, about the Guri Dam. Clearly the dam problems can’t be attributed 100% to the CIA. (http://euanmearns.com/more-revelations-on-venezuelas-drought-and-the-guri-dam/)
    As much as I support Maduro’s heroic effort to cripple fossil fuel production in Venezuela, I am less enthusiastic about his management of renewable resources…

    Reply
    1. John k

      Very interesting link.
      Yes, he’s doing what he can to keep fossils in the ground, especially good considering their oil is carbon heavy.
      Cheap fuel and electricity encourages massive waste. Give the poor money if you want, then charge world price for energy. Everybody should conserve, the rich won’t so middle class must.
      Then the twin 4x rate, one for the favored…
      us should not invade. But neighbor countries likely have a heavy load in a year or two… and already accepting millions of refugees.

      Reply
    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      There’s a lot of good information on the Guri Dam at that link (and yes, the amount of water stored behind the dam can be manipulated for political purposes; it’s not a natural phenomenon dictated by rainfall etc.).

      Most of the commentary, however, was about construction below the dam, and water management. It did not seem to bear directly on the question of sabotage, as claimed — on very thin evidence, at least in the English-speaking press — by the Venezuelan government.

      Reply
  14. super extra

    Apparently even US coup attempts these days are like CalPERS?

    How would we describe “calperson’s” or “calperism”? These traits come to mind:

    – competent people and processes pushed out by incompetent and status-hungry career climbers
    – institutional knowledge disregarded and denigrated in favor of short termism
    – group cooperation and cohesion broken down by incoherent leadership and mismanagement
    – refusal/inability to constructively integrate and learn from valid criticism, or engage in good faith debate

    A long time ago I read something about a war’s outcome being defined almost wholly by its media perception, so maintaining the narrative was crucial to winning the war. But since smartphones and social media platforms made narrative containment by mass media impossible, there’s only so far a crisis can be faked without enough willing participants.

    Isn’t the CIA one of those perfidious intelligence agencies that may or may not be opposed to Trump? Why would they want to give him an assist in their one true specialty, family blogging over Latin America? Except, whoops, everything is like calpers. They can’t even get a coup right any longer. The genuinely scary and competent people were replaced by dumb dorks who watch West Wing reruns and fantasize that they’re as important as Dan Mitrione but maybe without all the gross torture up close and personal, because that stuff (like everything else) is outsourced now.

    Reply
    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      The CIA is a closed and unregulated operation (I know Mark Warner is on the intelligence committee, a man who was one of the most absentee Senators despite being able to walk from his home, not 2nd home, to work). Though the West Wing destroyed the minds of people paying attention to politics especially when they started, the US is primarily defended by oceans and wastelands. The various intelligence agencies were always half assed operations without proper mandates and oversight in constant bids to gain more funding. Bad actors get to run away to McLean if anything goes wrong. The collapse of the USSR meant they were the only game in town for a long time, so the only real control on the US intelligence agencies was removed.

      Competence has rarely been part of the CIAs arsenal. I don’t remember if it’s in the book, but there was a line in “The Hunt for Red October” about CIA being a contradiction of terms.

      Reply
      1. John Farnham

        I’ve always thought that the allegation “Military Intelligence” was an oxymoron was more disinformation than truth. The CIA ? Murder Incorporated only likes secrecy because the sheep are not as alarmed. The Church Report way back when and Snowden’s more recent relevations might implicate the NSA – but that is only a matter of which of the plethora of intelligence agencies might be facilitating the runaround today.

        Reply
  15. Lambert Strether Post author

    More on “sabotage” at the Guri Dam via Deutsche Welle:

    Government officials said the massive Guri Dam, which supplies 80 percent of the country’s electricity, was the source of the power outage. The government said the dam was damaged by a cyberattack.

    “We will once again defeat this electrical sabotage. We are going to recover this important service for the population,” Vice President Delcy Rodriguez said on state television.

    Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez said Maduro’s government planned to bring “proof” of US involvement in the blackout to a UN Human Rights envoy who is set to visit the country in the coming days.

    This isn’t quite it, because this English speaker doesn’t read “electrical sabotage” as “cyberattack” and DW does not give an extended quotation of “what the government said.”

    Here is the Twitter account of CorpoElec, the Venezuelan national power authority. Perhaps if some Spanish-reading NC commenter could assess?

    Reply
    1. Joe Well

      Maduro and the vice president are saying this was an attack by the “right-wing” and US imperialism on the automated control system, but I couldn’t see whether that refers to software or hardware.

      They say that a UN delegation is coming and they will present the proof to them that this was a right-wing attack.

      I’m trying to reach the official government statements on http://correodelorinoco.gob.ve/ but the site is down for me.

      Amazing that a US privately owned company like Twitter is a more reliable platform than the supposedly open web. Maduro’s Twitter account, along with most of the government’s, is still active.

      New hashtag: #YankeesVáyanseAlCarajo

      Also, Twitter’s built in translation is excellent.

      Here’s an example. Almost perfect:

      #EnVivo | Ministro de Comunicación @jorgerpsuv: Perpetraron un ataque criminal, el tweet de Marco Rubio es muy revelador. Hicieron un ataque cibernético contra el Sistema de Control Automatizado.
      http://bit.ly/teleSUR

      Translated from Spanish by Microsoft
      #EnVivo| Minister of Communication @jorgerpsuv: perpetrated a criminal attack, Marco Rubio’s tweet is very revealing. They did a cyber attack on the automated Control system.

      Reply
      1. Joe Well

        My human correction of Microsoft’s translation of the tweet:

        #Live | Minister of Communication @jorgerpsuv: A criminal attack has been perpetrated. Marco Rubio’s tweet is very revealing. It was a cyber attack on the Automated Control System.

        Reply
  16. Bob

    Folks:

    The destruction of a power grid is a common adversarial tactic.

    Attacks on hydro electric grids were initiated in war time both in Germany and North Korea.
    And of course in Iraq.

    And the usual disinformation i.e. that the Venezuelan power grid is old and in poor repair is the party line.

    So expect that the first “assistance” offered to the new president of Venezuela by the US of A will be to repair the grid of course at a hefty price with funding through the World Bank. This will tie up the proceeds from Venezuela’s oil production for years.

    Reply
    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > Repair the grid of course at a hefty price with funding through the World Bank.

      Or the Venezuelan government might simply sell the dam to an international consortium* with “access to capital” needed to repair it and bring it to international standards…

      NOTE * With many Guado-adjacent investors, no doubt.

      Reply
  17. bob

    Electrical transmission and distribution is extremely reliable. Most of it is normally not networked either. The wonders of AC power allow a ton of redundancy and fault resistance that is inherent to the systems. Most of these systems were also developed long before anything was ‘networked’ in the way that term is understood today.

    Nicola Tesla, the real and only Tesla, was a genius. Beyond that…he’s probably from a different universe.

    Reply
  18. Conal Tuohy

    It seems like a lot of Venezuelan websites are still inaccessible due to the electrical outage, but I did find this story on cubadebate.cu, in which they report president Maduro describing the attacks which produced the continuing outage.

    (my translation of some of Maduro’s words)

    After the initial attack, “[a]t 6 or 7 in the evening the normal process of restoring national reconnection was already underway when suddenly we received an international cyber-attack against the brain of our electricity company, and the process of reconnection was automatically knocked down.”

    “I will explain this for the first time, I will try to explain as much as possible, because we are still in the middle of a thorough investigation and correction, because there are many infiltrators attacking our electricity company from the inside.”

    In addition to the “cyber-attacks” on the control systems (which they have still not got to the bottom of) he mentions also a “high tech” “electro-magnetic attack” on the power transmission lines themselves, and simultaneously, a fire at a key transmission station in the country’s south.

    He says the reconnection has recommenced and will be “definitive and stable” in the coming hours.

    Reply
    1. fajensen

      The “electromagnetic attack” could refer to an attack via the Power Line Carrier Communication (PLCC) protocols.

      Older power systems use a system of frequencies between 30-500 kHz imposed onto the HV power lines.

      Really old systems use straight DTMF (Dual Tone Multi-Frequency signalling) to do very simple tasks (two tones signal a breaker to open, a different pair means closing, as many frequency pairs or triples as there are operations and hardwired). More modern system uses digital communications over a Modem. Possibly even with encrypted data traffic, these systems are more like SCADA and can do most of what the SCADA systems can do, only slower.

      Modern systems uses optical fibres, usually the fibres are installed inside a hollow tube in the centre of the conductors used for lightning protection. The signalling within optic fibres are hard to interfere with, unless one can find a place where the fibre is teed off to some other installations.

      In case of the PLCC systems, It is easy for an attacker to sniff the protocols used using normal long-wave receiving equipment and loop- or ferrite- antennas. It is harder to impose a fake control signal onto the HV power lines without getting killed in the process (the power stations have properly insulated and shielded current transformers and filters installed for the purpose).

      Some PLCC systems inject the signal between a single phase and ground. This will be easier to hack since half of the signalling loop being at ground potential, which is accessible. Other PLCC systems inject between two phase conductors using a balanced signal. This is a harder target since here the whole loop is on high voltage and it is technically more difficult to inject the required opposing polarity signals required in two relatively closely spaced conductors.

      It should be possible for some kind of military outfit to jury-rig working couplers on long insulating poles to the lines for injecting a signal even on a balanced system. After all, “They” probably have all the schematics to begin with and whats a few casualties suffered in the line of duty?

      Of course it is probably a whole lot easier to simply shoot a systemically important transformer with one of those AP+Incendiary rounds that Raufoss makes for NATO. Maybe there exists a timed one-shot rifle exactly for that kind of thing?

      Reply

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