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ARGENTINA | 16-03-2023 09:49

Porteños take protest to energy firm's doors after prolonged power cuts

Residents renew protests across the capital and its outskirts amid prolonged power cuts. Blackouts, which have struck in the middle of an unprecedented heatwave, have left more than 100,000 homes in the dark.

Residents in and around Buenos Aires affected by prolonged power cuts amid a sweltering summer heatwave took to the streets on Wednesday night to demonstrate outside the offices of the firm responsible for electricity supply in the region.

More than 100,000 users were without electricity on Wednesday, and in some cases water too, with pumps failing to function without power.

After demonstrating for several days in different parts of the capital, angry residents in the south of the capital – the area most affected by the cuts – eventually marched on the offices of the Edesur energy company located at 4099 Juan Bautista Alberdi avenue in Parque Avellaneda. 

Tensions soared as protesters vandalised the building’s entrance and attempted to gain entry to the firm’s offices. City police were forced to intervene and calm the situation as protesters joined from Villa Lugano and Mataderos, increasing the size of the crowd.

Staging an impromptu cacerolazo pot-banging protest, demonstrators set fire to tyres, expressing their desperation at the thousands of homes and businesses left without power in soaring temperatures. 

According to data from Argentina’s National Electricity Regulatory Agency (ENRE), more than 115,000 homes remained without electricity on Wednesday afternoon in different areas across the capital and its overcrowded periphery, where some 15 million people live.

The most affected neighbourhoods were Villa Lugano, Flores, Mataderos, Parque Avellaneda, Monserrat, Villa Crespo, Parque Chacabuco, Almagro, Villa Riachuelo, Boedo, Monte Castro, Liniers, Villa del Parque and Villa Devoto.

"We have been without electricity for 14 days. We can't sleep. We have had electricity problems for six months. When one neighbourhood has electricity, the other doesn't," one protester complained.

Demonstrators were “outside of the premises and, out of anger, began to kick the entrance door. They were able to break the bars that protect the entrance to the premises at Edesur and the glass at the front, after which they entered violently," police sources told the Noticias Argentinas news agency.

 

Supply problems

Of those without electricity, 113,000 are customers of Edesur, owned by Italian firm Edel, and another 2,700 users are supplied by the Edenor company, which is currently in the hands of the Argentine group Vila-Manzano.

Since the privatisation of the service in 1992, which granted a 95-year concession, the two firms have divided the electricity supply service to the north and south of the capital and its periphery.

On Wednesday evening, a very short drizzle brought little relief from the torrid weather that has lasted for two weeks, taking temperatures in the capital down to 28 degrees, 10 degrees lower than the previous day but not enough to lower demand on the power grid.

"There is a chronic investment problem, there is no explanation for a person to go four days without electricity," ENRE head Walter Martello told the local Radio 10 station in an interview. 

"The temperature is not the excuse, but the lack of investment is, even when they had, not so long ago, almost a 3,000-percent increase in the tariff," he added, referencing increases granted during the government of Mauricio Macri (2015-2019). 

For Martello, who anticipated that the company would have to pay a fine for the service failures, "it is necessary for politicians to evaluate what to do with a company [that] has 60 years of a concession left." 

The ENRE said in a statement that in the next 90 days it will present to the national Congress a technical report of an audit on "Edesur's performance and the degree of compliance with its obligations contained in the concession contract" that is due to expire in 2087.

In addition to denouncing "the lack of attention in time and form to users' complaints," ENRE warned that there are issues "that may affect the continuity of Edesur's performance and the degree of compliance with its obligations contained in the concession contract."

Responding to public furore at the situation, government officials said Thursday that the Energy Secretariat would file a criminal complaint against Edesur’s board of directors. ENRE will reportedly make an allegation of "embezzlement, fraud to the detriment of the public administration and abandonment of person," sources told Noticias Argentinas.

According to reports in the local financial press the company’s owners, Italian firm Enel, are seeking to sell the firm. Edesur has been in the spotlight repeatedly over the summer because of the problems and failure to cope with soaring electricity demand.

 

– TIMES/AFP/NA

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