Tuesday 22 October 2019

Venezuelans in the dark as rivals trade blame for power cuts

The majority of the country’s 23 states have been affected by the outage.

People sit inside a darkened office building during a power outage in Caracas, Venezuela (Natacha Pisarenko/AP)
People sit inside a darkened office building during a power outage in Caracas, Venezuela (Natacha Pisarenko/AP)

By Associated Press Reporter

Much of Venezuela remains without electricity as a new power outage spread across the country in what many fear will be a repeat of the chaos a little more than two weeks ago during the nation’s largest-ever blackout.

The outage began around midday on Monday and appeared to have affected the majority of Venezuela’s 23 states.

While the lights did flicker back on in many parts after officials declared service would be restored within hours, the grid collapsed again in the late evening, knocking out communications and leaving much of the South American country bracing for the worst.

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People wait inside a darkened office building (Fernando Llano/AP)

As with the previous outage, President Nicolas Maduro’s government blamed US-backed opponents, accusing them of sabotaging the Guri dam, which supplies the bulk of Venezuela’s electricity.

“A macabre, perverse plan constructed in Washington and executed with factions of the extreme Venezuelan right,” Vice President Delcy Rodriguez declared on state television, describing it as an “electromagnetic” assault.

Officials said the “attack” had been controlled, but their assurances, similar to ones the last time around, did little to calm the anger of residents in Caracas who filled traffic-clogged streets as they walked home after the underground service in the capital was suspended.

Their patience grew increasingly thin when a second outage struck late into the night, with residents in some neighbourhoods banging on pots and pans in pitch black to express their growing frustration.

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People line up at a bus stop in an attempt to leave Caracas during a power outage (Natacha Pisarenko/AP)

Netblocks, a non-government group based in Europe that monitors internet censorship, said the late evening outage had knocked offline nearly 90% of Venezuela’s telecommunications infrastructure.

Even the powerful state TV apparatus was down.

The outages come as Mr Maduro is fighting to keep his grip on power amid a revived opposition movement and punishing economic sanctions from the US.

The Trump administration, which has made no secret of its desire to remove Mr Maduro, has denied any role in the outages.

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People jockey to enter a bus during a power outage (Fernando Llano/AP)

Meanwhile, electricity experts and opposition leader Juan Guaido fault years of corruption and incompetence by Mr Maduro’s socialist government

“This outage is evidence that the dictator is incapable of resolving the crisis,” Mr Guaido wrote on Twitter under the hashtag #ApagonRojo — Spanish for Red Blackout.

Mr Guaido, who the US and dozens of other countries recognise as Venezuela’s rightful leader, said he was meeting with aides to determine actions “to express the indignation of the entire population”.

Meanwhile, in a sign of mounting tensions, the government has presented what it claims to be evidence uncovered by intelligence agencies purporting to show plans by the opposition to hire mercenaries from Central America to carry out targeted killings and acts of sabotage.

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Graffiti reading Maduro Out in Spanish (Natacha Pisarenko/AP)

During a news conference in the middle of the blackout, Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez showed screenshots of what are purportedly private text messages between Mr Guaido, his mentor Leopoldo Lopez and other opposition insiders discussing payment details to the hired guns through banks in Europe and Panama.

“We have identified some paramilitaries that have entered Venezuela, and we will search for them by land, sea and air,” Mr Rodriguez said.

The opposition has yet to comment on the accusations but normally shrugs off such charges as a desperate attempt by the government to shift blame for its own ineptitude.

However, late at night, Lilian Tintori, the wife of Mr Lopez, said that a group of government loyalists on motorcycles besieged her home in eastern Caracas, shouting epithets in the dark against her husband and warning that he would soon be thrown back in jail.

Mr Lopez has been under house arrest following his conviction for stirring anti-government unrest in 2014 in a case that was marred by irregularities.

“I personally hold the usurper Nicolas Maduro directly responsible for anything that happens to Leopoldo or any member of my family,” she said.

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