Massive blackout hits tens of millions in South America

A vendor waits for customers during a national blackout, in Buenos Aires, Argentina June 16, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 17 June 2019

Massive blackout hits tens of millions in South America

  • The subsidies were a key part of the electricity policy of President Néstor Kirchner’s 2003-2007 administration and the presidency of Kirchner’s wife and successor, Cristina Fernández in 2007-2015

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina: A massive blackout left tens of millions of people without electricity in Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay on Sunday in what the Argentine president called an “unprecedented” failure in the countries’ power grid.
Authorities were working frantically to restore power, and by the evening electricity had returned to 90 percent of the South American country, according to Argentine state news agency Telam. Power also had been restored to most of Uruguay’s 3 million people.
As the sun rose Sunday over the darkened country, Argentine voters were forced to cast ballots by the light of cell phones in gubernatorial elections. Public transportation was halted, shops closed and patients dependent on home medical equipment were urged to go to hospitals with generators.
“This is an unprecedented case that will be investigated thoroughly,” Argentine President Mauricio Macri said on Twitter.
Argentina’s power grid is generally known for being in a state of disrepair, with substations and cables that were insufficiently upgraded as power rates remained largely frozen for years.
The country’s energy secretary said the blackout occurred at about 7 a.m. local time when a key Argentine interconnection system collapsed. By mid-afternoon nearly half of Argentina’s 44 million people were still in the dark.
The Argentine energy company Edesur said on Twitter that the failure originated at an electricity transmission point between the power stations at the country’s Yacyretá dam and Salto Grande in the country’s northeast. But why it occurred was still unknown.
An Argentine independent energy expert said that systemic operational and design errors played a role in the power grid’s collapse.
“A localized failure like the one that occurred should be isolated by the same system,” said Raúl Bertero, president of the Center for the Study of Energy Regulatory Activity in Argentina. “The problem is known and technology and studies (exist) to avoid it.”
Energy Secretary Gustavo Lopetegui said workers were working to restore electricity nationwide by the end of the day.
“This is an extraordinary event that should have never happened,” he told a news conference. “It’s very serious.”
Uruguay’s energy company UTE said the failure in the Argentine system cut power to all of Uruguay for hours and blamed the collapse on a “flaw in the Argentine network.”
In Paraguay, power in rural communities in the south, near the border with Argentina and Uruguay, was also cut. The country’s National Energy Administration said service was restored by afternoon by redirecting energy from the Itaipu hydroelectric plant the country shares with neighboring Brazil.
In Argentina, only the southernmost province of Tierra del Fuego was unaffected by the outage because it is not connected to the main power grid.
Brazilian and Chilean officials said their countries had not been affected.
Many residents of Argentina and Uruguay said the size of the outage was unprecedented.
“I was just on my way to eat with a friend, but we had to cancel everything. There’s no subway, nothing is working,” said Lucas Acosta, a 24-year-old Buenos Aires resident. “What’s worse, today is Father’s Day. I’ve just talked to a neighbor and he told me his sons won’t be able to meet him.”
“I’ve never seen something like this,” said Silvio Ubermann, a taxi driver in the Argentine capital. “Never such a large blackout in the whole country.”
Several Argentine provinces had elections for governor on Sunday, which proceeded with voters using their phone screens and built-in flashlights to illuminate their ballots.
“This is the biggest blackout in history, I don’t remember anything like this in Uruguay,” said Valentina Giménez, a resident of the capital, Montevideo. She said her biggest concern was that electricity be restored in time to watch the national team play in the Copa America football tournament Sunday evening.
Since taking office, Argentine President Macri has said that gradual austerity measures were needed to revive the country’s struggling economy. He has cut red tape and tried to reduce the government’s budget deficit by ordering job cuts and reducing utility subsidies, which he maintained was necessary to recuperate lost revenue due to years-long mismanagement of the electricity sector.
According to the Argentine Institute for Social Development, an average family in Argentina still pays 20 times less for electricity than similar households in neighboring countries.
The subsidies were a key part of the electricity policy of President Néstor Kirchner’s 2003-2007 administration and the presidency of Kirchner’s wife and successor, Cristina Fernández in 2007-2015. Fernandez is now running for vice president in October elections.


Rivals question front-runner Sanders’ electability at rowdy Democratic debate

Updated 22 min 25 sec ago

Rivals question front-runner Sanders’ electability at rowdy Democratic debate

  • ‘Bernie will lose to Donald Trump, and Donald Trump and the House and the Senate and some of the statehouses will all go red’
  • ‘I can tell you exactly how it all adds up. It adds up to four more years of Donald Trump’

CHARLESTON, South Carolina: Surging Democratic presidential front-runner Bernie Sanders came under withering fire in a boisterous debate in South Carolina on Tuesday, as rivals attacked the high cost of his ambitious economic agenda and warned he would cost the party the White House and control of Congress.

In a debate that featured candidates repeatedly shouting over one another and ignoring their time limits, Sanders’ opponents united in attacking the independent senator and self-avowed democratic socialist as a risky choice to lead Democrats against Republican President Donald Trump in November.

“Bernie will lose to Donald Trump, and Donald Trump and the House and the Senate and some of the statehouses will all go red,” billionaire former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, adding that would be “a catastrophe.”

Pete Buttigieg, the moderate former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, criticized Sanders for the shifting estimates on the costs of his proposals such as government-run health care and questioned how he could get his agenda passed.

“I can tell you exactly how it all adds up. It adds up to four more years of Donald Trump,” Buttigieg said, adding that a Sanders race against Trump would be devastating to the country.

“If you think the last four years has been chaotic, divisive, toxic, exhausting, imagine spending the better part of 2020 with Bernie Sanders versus Donald Trump,” Buttigieg said.

Sanders defended his ability to pay for costly programs such as Medicare for All, which would replace private health insurance with a government-run program, and said he was raising issues supported by the American people.

“My favorability nationally, I believe, is the highest up here,” Sanders said in a reference to opinion polls, adding he beat Trump in most national surveys.

“If you want to beat Trump, what you’re going to need is an unprecedented grassroots movement of black and white and Latino, Native American and Asian, people who are standing up and fighting for justice. That’s what our movement is about,” Sanders said.

Sanders has taken command of the race after strong showings in the first three nominating contests in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, and the debate was the last chance for his opponents to try to stop his momentum before Saturday’s South Carolina primary and next week’s 14 vital Super Tuesday contests.

Even Elizabeth Warren, a senator from Massachusetts and progressive ally of Sanders who is trying to revive a struggling campaign, took a swing at her old friend.

“I think I would make a better president than Bernie. And the reason for that is that getting a progressive agenda enacted is going to be really hard,” she said. “I dug in, I did the work, and then Bernie’s team trashed me.”

Senator Amy Klobuchar said neither Sanders nor Warren had shown the leadership in the Senate to accomplish much.

“It matters if you can actually get things done,” she said.