Venezuela decreed a holiday Tuesday to cope with a new near-nationwide blackout that the government alleged was caused by an “attack” targeting its main hydroelectric plant.
Caracas and other cities were without power, knocking out public transport, water supplies and leaving buildings without generators – including many hospitals – plunged into gloom.
In the capital, streets were largely empty. There were lines for the very few buses running, but subway stations were closed, the underground trains stalled on their tracks. Shops were shuttered.
The outage began in the middle of Monday, sparking fear and frustration as citizens confronted anew the same paralysis that gripped the country just two weeks ago in a vast blackout that lasted a week.
Lights came on briefly overnight, then cut out hours later, including at the main international airport outside Caracas, where passenger check-ins were being done by hand for lack of computers.
The government declared Tuesday a work-free and school-free day to take a load off the grid.
“We have been victims of an attack against the electricity generation and distribution system, and specifically against the Guri plant,” a giant hydroelectric facility that supplies power to 80 percent of Venezuela’s 30 million inhabitants, Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez told state television.
He blamed the opposition, led by Juan Guaido who is recognized by the United States and allied countries as Venezuela’s interim president.
NetBlocks, an organization that monitors the internet, said it had detected a “severe impact” to the telecoms network across 18 of Venezuela’s 23 states.
A Degraded Grid
In the last blackout, President Nicolas Maduro also had said the Guri plant was targeted. Then, he accused the United States of launching a “cybernetic” attack against it, and accused the opposition of being behind acts of “sabotage.”
In that March 7-14 outage, more than a dozen patients in hospitals died, production slowed in the vital oil sector and water supplies were interrupted, forcing citizens to turn to sewage outflows and polluted water sources.
Analysts said that while a U.S. attack was possible it was unlikely.
They said years of underinvestment, poor management and corruption was the more likely culprit and they predicted more power cuts would follow.
Guaido rejected the government’s accusations against him, saying he had information from workers in the state electricity company Corpoelec that “an overload of some transformers” was to blame.
Offices are emptying here in #caracas during the blackout. Metro not working, traffic lights out causing chaos. People are walking out trying to head home before sunset in 2 hours #venezuela pic.twitter.com/fLtWh08MHN
— Annika H Rothstein (@truthandfiction) March 25, 2019
“When our people need certainty in the middle of another unsettling blackout, how can they go on repeating excuses of an ‘electricity war’ and sabotage?” he tweeted.
Amid the last blackout, the independent online news publication the Greyzone Project published a 2010 memo originally obtained by WikiLeaks from a Washington-funded think tank that suggests the Venezuelan opposition should “take advantage” of electrical outages and “spin” the situation against the government and “towards their needs.”
CANVAS – the group the produced the memo – reportedly trained Guaido on tactics to defeat “21st Century Socialism” in Venezuela.
The memo does not suggest that U.S. officials or Venezuelan opposition leaders should sabotage electrical facilities or otherwise cause outages, but asserts that a large-scale blackout would be “a watershed moment that “would likely have the impact of galvanizing public unrest in a way that no opposition group could ever hope to generate.”
Venezuelans still able to go online vented their frustration by mocking the government’s allegations.
“Who are they accusing this time? ET?” went one tweet.
They “are going to announce that a UFO sent by Trump and Venezuela’s right-wing launched an electromagnetic attack with extra-galactic weapons,” said another.
One parody image posted online depicted the Guri dam being assaulted by a giant octopus.
— Annika H Rothstein (@truthandfiction) March 25, 2019
In the streets, Venezuelans appeared midway between rage and resignation.
“Here, nobody tells the truth. The media don’t tell the truth. And we’re prevented from doing our work,” said Yoan, an electrician wiring up a frozen yogurt shop
Rafael, at work in a printing shop where all the machines had come to a stop, accused the government of “not doing repairs” to the power grid.
“They give so many warnings about the network being damaged and they do nothing,” he said.
Still, others are convinced the blackouts are indeed the work of the U.S.-backed opposition.
“This is the work of dark forces working in the shadows,” Libia Arraiz told AFP earlier this month. “People on the side of the opposition say this is what we need for them to be able to take power, but everyone is suffering.”
For ordinary Venezuelans, the successive power cuts were one more indignity in a country where food and medicine have become scarce, the money decimated by runaway inflation, and the political system locked in a power struggle.
While some Venezuelans expressed hope that U.S. backing for Guaido might bring change, the geopolitical tussle over impoverished but oil-rich Venezuela suggested it would not come quickly.
Russia, Venezuela’s main ally and one of its biggest creditors along with China, on the weekend sent 100 troops and military equipment aboard two flights to Caracas.
Moscow said it would not tolerate a U.S.-supported “coup” it alleged was brewing.
Washington hit back, warning that it will not “stand idly by as Russia exacerbates tensions in Venezuela.”
More on the Subject
Vicente Fernandez has not opened his freezer since the massive blackout began in Venezuela on Thursday. He wants to try to save everything that’s in there, but he’s starting to worry.
“I’m afraid it has all gone bad,” says Fernandez, a 54-year-old who sells telecoms equipment.
Venezuelans, already feeling the pinch due to food and medicine shortages, are suffering even more now that the power has gone down.