As daylight approaches in Venezuela, a massive power failure that began Thursday afternoon continues throughout much of the country, marking one of the worst blackouts in recent memory for a nation accustomed to persistent electricity problems.
While the government quickly moved to blame sabotage or a sophisticated attack on the nation’s biggest hydroelectric plant, it appears other sources of electricity failed to pick up the slack including thermoelectric units in the center and west of the country. With lights now off for as many as 14 hours, communication has also become an issue with many mobile phone batteries losing their charge.
Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez implied that the US could be involved in the incident, a comment echoed by President Nicolas Maduro. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Florida Senator Marco Rubio scoffed at the accusations and said the blame rests squarely on the socialist regime’s inefficiency and lack of maintenance.
“The electricity war announced and led by US imperialism against our people will be defeated,” Maduro wrote on his Twitter account. “No one will defeat the people of Bolivar and Chavez. Maximum unity of the patriots!”
Pompeo shot back with “Maduro’s policies bring nothing but darkness. No food. No medicine. Now, no power. Next, no Maduro.”
As Maduro fends off a resurgent opposition which has laid a claim to the presidency arguing that his latest term is illegitimate since it was born from a fraudulent election, the accusations of U.S. meddling to force his removal have increased. The U.S. is one of 60 countries now backing the opposition’s Juan Guaido in his bid to form a transition government while Maduro has kept the loyalty of his allies in Cuba, Russia, China and Turkey.
On Thursday, traffic snarled across the capital and the subway closed, forcing commuters to trek home by foot. Travelers also reported that the lights went out in the international airport near Caracas, the country’s largest. On social media, users reported blackouts from the Andes to the Caribbean coast.
Rodriguez, the Information Minister, told the Telesur network that power had been restored in the entirety of the country’s eastern region after a “technical and cyber” attack against the Guri hydroelectric power system. He said power would be back across the country within the next few hours. That has yet to materialize.
“Those who try by every means to provoke regime change in Venezuela will continue receiving the powerful response of the Venezuelan people,” Rodriguez said.
The public utility Corpoelec claimed earlier that electric generation at Venezuela’s Guri dam had been sabotaged. The facility in southern Bolivar state powers almost two thirds of the country.
“We have again been victims of an electricity war. This time, we have been attacked on the power generation and transmission side from Bolivar state, specifically the Guri, the backbone of power,” Electricity Minister Luis Motta said on state television. Speaking just after 6 p.m. local time, Motta said that service would be restored in about three hours.
Rolling blackouts and water shortages have become a near daily occurrence across Venezuela as infrastructure falls into disarray after years of mismanagement and exodus of personnel. Major cities and towns lose power for hours at a time on a near daily basis. According to industry analysts, the electrical crisis is due to neglect amid the country’s economic collapse.
The capital was submerged in darkness after sundown Thursday. In eastern Caracas, Venezuelans banged pots and pans in protest and yelled “Maduro!” from their balconies as part of a game where the listeners respond with an expletive.