Friday 19 April 2019

Venezuela power blackout caused by sabotage - Maduro

Nicolas Maduro: Venezuelan leader is under pressure to step down. Photo: Reuters
Nicolas Maduro: Venezuelan leader is under pressure to step down. Photo: Reuters

Hannah Savage

Venezuela was almost entirely without power yesterday amid a blackout that wrought chaos and was blamed by the Maduro government on sabotage.

Communications went down, water pumps failed and transport ground to a halt as much of the country was plunged into darkness on Thursday evening.

The power cut was believed to have affected all but one of Venezuela's 24 states, though with mobile networks and the internet largely out of action, the situation in some areas was unclear.

In Caracas and elsewhere, schools and businesses closed and workers were forced to walk miles to get home.

There were reports of life support machines and other essential medical equipment failing at hospitals without backup generators.

There was no word on when the power cut might end, with fears that it could last for days - a daunting prospect for Venezuelans already suffering punishing shortages of food, medicine and money.

Amid the deepening international crisis over his leadership, Nicolas Maduro blamed the blackout on an "electric war" waged by the enemies of his socialist government, claiming "sabotage" at the Guri hydroelectric dam.

For most Venezuelans, the claims did not ring true, with many noting that Guri was state-operated and under tight security. Instead, they pinned the blackout on years of decay.

Juan Guaido, the national assembly leader who has been recognised as interim president by more than 50 countries, said the blackout demonstrated the "inefficiency of the usurper", referring to Mr Maduro. Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, said: "No food. No medicine. Now, no power. Next, no Maduro."

The outage comes as Venezuela is in the throes of a political struggle between Mr Maduro and opposition leader Mr Guaido.

Without power to charge phones, social media was eerily quiet. Those who managed to get a signal used the hashtag #SinLuz - meaning without light in English - to share images of cities that resembled ghost towns.

One user posted a video of a nurse manually pumping air into the lungs of an infant. The director of CODEVIDA, a coalition of Venezuelan health advocacy groups, reported that thousands of dialysis patients were going without treatment as a result of the blackout.

While some hospitals were able to rely on back-up power sources, others were dark.

At the maternity ward at the Avila Clinic in wealthy eastern Caracas on Thursday night, mothers wept as nurses held candles to monitor premature babies in incubators.

Venezuela's electrical system has fallen into disrepair after years of poor maintenance and mismanagement.

The government keeps home power bills exceptionally low, relying heavily on subsidies from the Maduro administration, which is under increasing financial duress.

The nation is experiencing hyperinflation, plus food and medical shortages, and has lost about 10pc of its population to migration in the past few years - including many with energy expertise.

Economic woes are likely to increase as US sanctions against its oil industry kick in.

State-owned electricity operator Corpoelec blamed the outage on an act of "sabotage" at the Guri dam. Information minister Jorge Rodriguez described it as a "cyber" attack intended to derail the system.

Irish Independent

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