As It Happens

Venezuelan activist describes 'chaos' and 'collapse' as blackouts enter day 5

Caracas is in a state of "total chaos" as Venezuela enters its fifth day of widespread power outages, says an activist and photojournalist in the capital city.

Food is rotting in people's refrigerators while hospitals use generators to keep critically ill patients alive

People collect water from a sewage canal at the river Guaire in Caracas on Monday as a massive power outage continues affecting some areas of the country. (Christian Hernandez/AFP/Getty Images)

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Caracas is in a state of "total chaos" as Venezuela enters its fifth day of widespread power outages, says an anti-government activist and photojournalist in the capital city.

The young woman, who goes by the nickname Flaka, says her building was without power for 94 hours before it started returning in fits and starts. 

What little food people have been able to get their hands on is starting to rot inside their refrigerators, she said, adding that people are lining up en masse at stores to stock up on non-perishables.

"Some neighbours was, like, giving their food to the other neighbours to save it," Flaka told As It Happens host Carol Off.

"The bakeries are giving for free the food. Some markets are giving for free the food."

Protests in the streets 

As It Happens is withholding Flaka's full name at her request because she fears retribution for protesting against the country's embattled President Nicolas Maduro.

Maduro's rule is being challenged by congress leader Juan Guaido, who in January invoked the constitution to assume the presidency after declaring Maduro's 2018 re-election a fraud.

Guaido has been recognized as Venezuela's legitimate leader by Canada and most Western countries, but Maduro retains control of the armed forces and state institutions.

A security force member stands next to detainees in Caracas on Sunday who are alleged to have looted during an ongoing blackout. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)

During the breakout, Maduro's forces have clashed with protesters and alleged looters. 

Flaka says Maduro's soldiers assaulted her while she was out taking photos on Sunday.

"This red car stops in front of mine and they put a gun in my face and they hit my face and they stole my camera," she said.

"I have, like, a big purple eye because they hit me. I'm giving thanks [to] God because I'm alive."

As It Happens has seen a photo of Flaka's bruised face, but cannot independently confirm her account.

Hospitals 'in collapse'

Flaka says she's been visiting hospitals in Caracas, which she says are running on generators and are overcrowded with people flocking from rural locations desperate to medical services.

"The hospitals are very, very bad," she said. "Everything is in collapse."

Venezuelans, including doctors, gather outside a church after mass on Sunday, holding a banner reads 'Humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.' (Marco Bello/Reuters)

Some hospitals are caring for their most critically ill patients with the help of generators, but there aren't enough to go around and doctors are running out of medicines that require refrigeration, she said. 

The non-governmental organization Doctors for Health told Reuters that 21 people have died in public hospitals during the outage.

Those numbers have not been independently verified.

Maduro blames U.S., opposition blames Maduro 

Maduro has blamed the blackout on sabotage by the United States at Venezuela's Guri hydroelectric dam, while the opposition-controlled congress has blamed negligence by Maduro's socialist government.

Maduro on Sunday tweeted that he had taken steps to ensure the distribution of basic necessities, including food and water, to hospitals and other places. 

In a video on Monday, he decried what he called a "macabre strategy" by the West to make Venezuelans turn against each other. 

Crowds in Caracas wait in line to purchase non-perishable food. (Edilzon Gamez/Getty Images)

But Flaka doesn't buy the government line.

"The people know that the power trouble is because they don't take care of the power system in the country," she said. "The people know that is is not an attack from United States."

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Reuters and Associated Press. Interview with Flaka produced by Chris Harbord.