- Venezuela is entering the fifth day of its worst blackout in decades.
- President Nicolás Maduro blamed “American imperialism”, specifically US cyber attacks, for the power outage.
- But experts believe the lack of maintenance and funding of the national power grid is the real culprit.
- Many hospitals are without power, public transport is down, and stores are being looted.
Venezuela is entering the fifth day of a nationwide blackout that has plunged even critical infrastructure like hospitals into darkness.
The South American nation, which is battling a crippling humanitarian crisis, experiences periodic power cuts, but the current outage is the worst in decades.
The lights went out in most regions, including the capital of Caracas, on Thursday at around 5pm. Since then, power has returned intermittently in some states, but most of the country remains without electricity, the Associated Press reported.
Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro blamed the United States and the opposition for starting what he called an “electricity war.”
His government alleged that the US sabotaged the country’s main power plant, a hydroelectric facility, in Guri Dam.
Maduro later tweeted that the electric system was “subject to multiple cybernet attacks” that prevented restoration of power. He provided no evidence for these claims.
El Sistema Eléctrico Nacional ha sido objeto de múltiples ataques cibernéticos que ocasionaron su caída y han impedido los intentos de reconexión nacional. Sin embargo, hacemos grandes esfuerzos para, en las próximas horas, restaurar el suministro de forma estable y definitiva. pic.twitter.com/C1dJGuWxSD
— Nicolás Maduro (@NicolasMaduro) March 10, 2019
Experts have contradicted Maduro, placing the blame instead on past neglect of the power network, and a skills shortage due to the perilous state of the national economy.
Juan Guaidó, the self-declared interim president trying to unseat Maduro, accused the government of corruption and sqaundering investments for the electricity system.
“[The state] stole the money for power generation. No one believes its lies: whether it’s iguanas or ‘cyber attacks,'” he tweeted. “Iguanas” was a reference to a previous incident, where the Maudro government blamed iguanas for a blackout.
Este régimen asesina por acción y omisión. Masacran a voluntarios e indigenas con ayuda humanitaria y se robaron el dinero de generación eléctrica. Nadie cree sus mentiras: de la iguana al ‘Cyber ataque’. Para que cese la oscuridad, debe cesar la usurpación. Más firmes que nunca
— Juan Guaidó (@jguaido) March 8, 2019
Energy experts believe that the government’s neglect of the power grid caused the massive blackout. Venezuela has one of the largest oil reserves in the world, and its power system was once one of the best in Latin America.
But corruption as well as lack of maintenance and technical know-how have left the grid in a state of disrepair, according to the New York Times.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, Ali Briceño, a union leader from the national electric company Corpoelec, rejected the possibility of a cyber attack.
Instead, he blamed a brush fire that overheated three trunk lines at the Guri powerplant, causing the turbines to shut down. He also said that thousands of engineers and specialists had left the country because of its tanking economy.
“We won’t be able to recover that manpower,” he told El Nacional.
Meanwhile Venezuelans who are already struggling with food and medicine shortages are reaching new levels of despair because of the power outage.
Food is rotting in warm refrigerators, public transport is down, and spotty telephone and internet connections are making it hard to communicate, according to Reuters.
Many hospitals were also left without power after backup generators failed. Sharing a list of the affected hospitals and departments on Twitter, opposition deputy Jose Manuel Olivares claimed at least 21 people have died.
URGENTE. Este es el balance a esta hora de los fallecidos por el apagón. No es una simple cifra, son vidas de venezolanos que de no ser por la incapacidad de Nicolás Maduro, no se hubiesen perdido. #HospitalSinLuz pic.twitter.com/Lc9QcvsAoK
— Jose Manuel Olivares (@joseolivaresm) March 11, 2019
The English-speaking news site Caracas Chronicles said it was a “nightmare” to report with limited access to electricity.
“Journalists (mostly foreign correspondents) have moved to hotels with wifi. Still, there is no water, no room for all and no payment method besides $ in cash,” the outlet tweeted.
Maduro is mostly relying on social media to assure his supporters that the government is providing basic necessities to the needy, and that the military is protecting the power plant from further attacks.
Guaidó plans on calling a state of emergency to request international aid.