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Venezuela's Guaido says blackout exasperates an already desperate situation

Juan Guaido. Photograph:( Reuters )

Reuters Caracas, Capital District, Venezuela Mar 08, 2019, 10.49 PM (IST)

Venezuela's opposition leader Juan Guaido slammed the government on Friday after the country plunged into darkness because of a massive blackout.

"Imagine being without electricity for 18 hours, what that means for the hospitals, what that means for the Venezuelan people, the rotting of food which is already hard to come by," Guaido said, surrounded by dozens of supporters as he walked towards an event.

Early on Friday, the government shut schools and suspended the workday as the worst blackout in decades paralysed most of the troubled nation for a second day, spurring outrage among citizens already suffering from hyperinflation and a crippling recession.

Power went out late on Thursday afternoon due to a problem at Venezuela's main hydroelectric plant, the government said, calling the event an act of "sabotage" by ideological adversaries.

While blackouts are routine in many Venezuelan provinces, particularly along the western border with Colombia, nationwide power outages under the ruling Socialist Party have never extended for more than a day.

In Caracas, scores of people walked through the streets early in the morning due to the closure of the metro, while others took the few buses that were circulating. Many did not realize the workday was suspended because they could not watch television or listen to the news.

President Nicolas Maduro always attributes major power outages to sabotage by opposition adversaries.

Maduro, who was re-elected last year in a vote widely viewed as fraudulent, blames the crisis on a U.S.-backed sabotage campaign.

His critics say his government has mismanaged the power sector since late socialist leader Hugo Chavez nationalized it in 2007 while setting aside billions of dollars for power projects that were swallowed by corruption.

More than 3 million people are believed to have fled Venezuela amid a deep economic crisis marked by shortages of food and medicine and hyperinflation.

Venezuela suffered major blackouts in 2008 and 2013 that affected significant parts of the country, but both were resolved in less than six hours.

Maduro's televised speeches have on several occasions been interrupted by power outages, spurring chuckles from opposition critics.

Local power outages continue to be chronic, particularly in the sweltering western state of Zulia where residents complain of days without power or with limited electricity and voltage fluctuations that damage appliances.

Venezuela is mired in a major political crisis, with more than 40 foreign governments disavowing Maduro in favour of Guaido. The United States in January levied crippling oil industry sanctions meant to starve Maduro's government of revenue.

Story highlights

'Imagine being without electricity for 18 hours, what that means for the hospitals, what that means for the Venezuelan people, the rotting of food which is already hard to come by,' Guaido said, surrounded by dozens of supporters as he walked towards an event.