Wednesday 16 October 2019

US to remove diplomats from Venezuela following energy blackouts

There is a deepening political crisis in the South American country.

People collect water from a leaking pipeline above the Guaire River during rolling blackouts (Fernando Llano/AP)
People collect water from a leaking pipeline above the Guaire River during rolling blackouts (Fernando Llano/AP)

By Fabiola Sanchez and Scott Smith, Associated Press

The United States is withdrawing its remaining staff from its embassy in Venezuela, citing the deteriorating situation in the South American nation.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the decision as Venezuela struggles to restore electricity following four days of blackouts around the country and a deepening political crisis.

The US has led an international effort to oust socialist president Nicolas Maduro and replace him with opposition leader Juan Guaido, who vows to hold a new presidential election.

Mr Guaido is backed by some 50 countries, while Mr Maduro maintains support from countries such as China, Russia and Cuba.

Mr Maduro had ordered all US diplomats to leave Venezuela in late January because of its support from Mr Guaido, but he retreated and allowed them to stay.

The US still withdrew dependents of embassy personnel as well as some of the staff, and the secretary of state said the remaining diplomats would be out of Venezuela by the end of the week.

The move came after another day of chaos as power outages that began on Thursday evening continued to cause problems for Venezuelans, leaving them with little power, water and communications.

People converged on a polluted river to fill water bottles in Caracas, and scattered protests erupted in several cities.

A taxi with a message on the windshield the reads in Spanish “Venezuela wants peace” (Eduardo Verdugo/AP)

A three-year-old girl with a brain tumour languished in a Caracas hospital, awaiting treatment after doctors started surgery but then suspended the operation when nationwide power outages first hit on Thursday, said the girl’s fearful mother, who only gave her first name, Yalimar.

“The doctors told me that there are no miracles,” said Yalimar, who hopes her daughter can be transferred to one of the few hospitals in Venezuela that would be able to finish the complex procedure on Tuesday.

On Monday, schools and businesses were closed, long lines of cars waited at the few petrol stations with electricity and hospitals cared for many patients without power.

Generators have alleviated conditions for some of the critically ill.

President Nicolas Maduro said on national television Monday night that progress had been made in restoring power in Venezuela.

He also said two people who were allegedly trying to sabotage power facilities were captured and were providing information to authorities, though he gave no details.

Mr Guaido, who heads the opposition-controlled congress, and the United States say Mr Maduro’s claims that the US sabotaged the power grid with a “cyberattack” are an attempt to divert attention from the government’s own failings.

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