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A man looks at his mobile phone during the blackout in Caracas, Venezuela. Photo: Reuters

‘Electrical war’: saboteurs blamed as massive power cut in Venezuela leaves millions in the dark

  • Commuters in the country’s crumbling capital, Caracas, were forced to walk home from work after the metro service was paralysed by the outage
  • State-owned electricity operator Corpoelec blamed the outage on act of ‘sabotage’ at the Guri Dam

Much of Venezuela remained in darkness early on Friday amid one of the largest power cuts in years, raising tensions in a country already on edge from ongoing political turmoil.

The blackout hit 22 of 23 states by some accounts. It struck the capital Caracas, which until now has been spared the worst of a collapse in the nation’s grid, at the peak of rush hour.

Thousands of commuters flooded into the streets because subway services stopped. Cars jammed the streets amid confusion caused by black traffic lights. Others had to walk long distances to get home.

Commuters unable to use the subway due to a partial power cut, walk home. Photo: AFP

In the darkened maternity ward at the Avila Clinic in wealthy eastern Caracas, several mothers cried as nurses holding candles monitored the vital signs of premature babies in incubators after backup generators stopped working.

Venezuela’s socialist government blasted the outage as an “electrical war” directed by the United States. Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez said right-wing extremists intent on causing pandemonium and taking orders from Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio were behind the blackout.

“A little bit of patience,” Rodriguez urged on state television, saying service would be restored in a few hours. “If you’re in your home, stay in your home. If you’re in a protected space or at work, it’s better for you to stay there.”

But as night wore on in Caracas, patience was running thin.

President Nicolas Maduro blasted the outage as an ‘electrical war’ directed by the United States. Photo: Reuters

Residents threw open their windows and banged pots and pans in the darkness. Some shouted out expletives at President Nicolas Maduro in a sign of mounting frustration.

In the early hours of Friday, power had still not been restored in many areas.

The blackout in Caracas, Venezuela. Photo: Reuters

The outage came as Venezuela is in the throes of a political struggle between Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido, the head of congress who declared himself the nation’s rightful president in January.

Guaido took to Twitter to blast Maduro for the power cut.

“How do you tell a mom who needs to cook, an ill person who depends on a machine, a worker who should be labouring that we are in a powerful country without electricity?” he wrote.

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Power cuts have become common in Venezuela recently, but rarely have so many states been without power for such a long period at the same time.

While authorities expressed concern about the sick and elderly, and a few people had to be rescued from lifts, residents in Caracas expressed awe at the sight of stars hanging over the normally bustling city of 2 million.

Chacao neighbourhood in Caracas. Photo: AFP

The government keeps home power bills exceptionally low – just a couple dollars a month.

State-owned electricity operator Corpoelec blamed the power cut on act of “sabotage” at the Guri Dam, one of the world’s largest hydroelectric stations and the cornerstone of Venezuela’s electrical grid. Rodriguez described it as a cyberattack intended to take down the whole system. He said electricity in Venezuela’s eastern region was restored within two hours.

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“What’s the intention?” he said. “To submit the Venezuelan people to various days without electricity to attack, to mistreat, so that vital areas would be without power.”

Pro-government officials often blame power outages on Venezuela’s opposition, accusing them of attacking power substations with Molotov cocktails.

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Rubio, who has been driving the Trump administration’s confrontational stance towards Maduro, seemed to relish Rodriguez’s accusations that he was behind the power crisis.

“My apologies to people of Venezuela,” the Florida Republican said on Twitter. “I must have pressed the wrong thing on the ‘electronic attack’ app I downloaded from Apple. My bad.”

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Saboteurs blamed for massive blackout