Rival Protests in Venezuela After Power Cuts
Tensions have escalated in Venezuela as supporters of President Nicolás Maduro and self-declared interim president Juan Guaidó take to the streets after nearly three days of nationwide blackouts.
The majority of the country was left without power during rush hour on Thursday due to the failure of the Guri hydropower plant, which provides electricity to most of Venezuela. The blackout reportedly hit 22 of 23 states, and schools, government offices and businesses were closed to allow for power to be restored.
While power was reportedly restored to parts of Caracas, Venezuela’s capital, on Friday, most of the country remained without electricity. However, a second blackout struck on Saturday, cutting power in previously restored sectors. The metro in Caracas remains closed, and many hospitals remain without power, with patients and their relatives attempting to move to hospitals with electric generators.
The blackout caused the government and opposition party to point fingers at each other, with Maduro blaming the the United States, specifically Senator Marco Rubio, for sabotaging the power system. The US is a strong supporter of majority leader Juan Guaidó, who declared himself interim president on Jan. 23.
The government, however, has not provided evidence of such sabotage. The Guri hydropower plant is located in a militarized zone and guarded by soldiers, who are still loyal to Maduro’s government.
Guaidó and the opposition urged Venezuelans to take to the streets to protest the corruption and mismanagement of the government, while Maduro rallied his own supporters against US imperialist tactics and against Guaidó’s claim to the presidency.
Opposition protesters were confronted by national security forces on the streets of Caracas on Saturday, with riot police and members of the National Guard standing on corners as the demonstrations continued.
While electricity shortages are not uncommon in Venezuela, the outage is the largest in recent decades. While the country has vast oil reserves, it exports its oil, instead relying on hydroelectric power for its citizens. However, little investment in hydroelectricity in recent years, coupled with drought, irregular maintenance and even government embezzlement from infrastructure budgets, has paralyzed the energy sector.
The outage is one of many incidents increasing tensions in the already embattled nation as President Maduro faces challenges from the opposition and Guaidó as well as international pressures over the legitimacy of his presidency.