News / Americas

Political Sparks Fly after Venezuela Blackout

People sit down to have lunch in darkness, during a massive blackout in Caracas, Venezuela, Sept. 3, 2013.
People sit down to have lunch in darkness, during a massive blackout in Caracas, Venezuela, Sept. 3, 2013.
Reuters
One of the worst power outages in Venezuelan history has given a jolt to President Nicolas Maduro's government and revived opposition accusations that its socialist policies and incompetence are wrecking the country.

Even though Venezuela's 29 million people have endured sporadic blackouts since 2009, there was widespread shock at the extent of this week's outage across two-thirds of the nation.

In the capital Caracas, which the government strenuously shields from rationing, the power went off throughout Tuesday afternoon, causing chaos on the streets.

“This isn't the Third World, it's the Fifth World!” griped student Marilyn Morales, 26, recounting how first she was trapped in underground transport, then had to lend a doctor her iPhone to use as a torch during an appointment in a dark clinic.

Some Venezuelans in the provinces watched the pain in Caracas with a measure of schadenfreude, saying it was about time the privileged residents of the capital, known as “caraquenos,” saw what they endured regularly.

Maduro, a 50-year-old former bus driver who narrowly won a presidential election this year after the death of his mentor and former leader Hugo Chavez, accused the opposition of deliberately sabotaging the grid to discredit him.

“Everything seems to indicate that the extreme right wing has revived its plan for an 'electricity coup,”' he said, announcing a new Chavez-style initiative, Mission Electricity, to guard and improve the grid. “I urge the electricity workers and people to help in the fight to protect the system from sabotage.”

Maduro has not yet provided concrete evidence of sabotage, and troops have been guarding important installations since similar accusations in the past.

Opposition mockery

Though Venezuela's well-funded opposition movement certainly has its radicals, and plenty of machinations plagued Chavez' 14-year rule, Maduro's daily accusations of assassination and coup plots are straining credulity for many Venezuelans.

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who still contests  Maduro's election victory in April and hopes to make gains against the ruling party in December local elections, led lampooning of the sabotage claims.

“The power cut shows once again the terrible incompetence of this government,” said Capriles. He was in the middle of a webcast with journalists - where electricity shortages were under discussion - when the lights went off on him.

“They'll make up any old story to distract Venezuelans,” added Capriles, 41, who governs Miranda state.

Opposition politicians accuse officials of stealing money and failing to invest properly in state-run power company Corpoelec after Chavez nationalized the sector in 2007 during a  sweeping state takeover of much of the economy.

They want Electricity Minister Jesse Chacon to resign.

Unlike other parts of the developing world, including political ally Cuba, Venezuelans had been unused to power failures due to the oil-exporter's rich natural resources and strong hydroelectric facilities that generate two-thirds of electricity.

Chacon gave a technical rather than political explanation for Tuesday's outage, saying a major line - No. 765 in central Guarico state that carries about 60 percent of national supply - collapsed when a protective metal shield fell on it.

But, in a nod to his boss, he did not rule out foul play.

Venezuela has a maximum generation capacity of about 28,000 megawatts, and demand that day was a below-average level of between 16,300-16,500, the minister said, denying accusations that the system could not cope with increasing needs.

Litany of problems

The electricity sector is just one in a bulging in-tray of  problems Maduro faces as he seeks to govern in the name of Chavez while also fixing some of his predecessor's failings.

Most urgent is the economy.

Inflation, a decades-old problem predating Chavez, remains the highest in the Americas, at an annualized 43 percent, and is causing huge pain on the streets despite government subsidies that offer some protection to the poor.

Currency controls are creating myriad distortions and scams: the dollar is selling on the black market at six times the official price of 6.3 bolivars.

That has brought a resurgence of practices like “currency tourism” where Venezuelans travel abroad simply to take advantage of dollar allowances at the official rate.

In some cases, they buy a ticket to show as a requisite for the allowance, but then do not get on the plane. Or they fly to the cheapest possible destination, where someone will be waiting to “buy” their credit card allowance straight off them.

Restricted access to dollars for private businesses has also been a factor in persistent shortages of basics from toilet paper to flour that continue to irritate Venezuelans.

Maduro's standing has not been helped, either, by some spectacular verbal gaffes.

In the latest, when alluding to the biblical story of Jesus miraculously providing loaves and fishes for a crowd of followers, he spoke of a multiplication of “penises” instead of “fishes”, muddling the Spanish words “penes” and “peces.”

Also last month, he raised eyebrows describing how he sometimes sleeps in the mausoleum where Chavez's body lies.

How all this plays with the Venezuelan people is hard to read in polls that are often small or politically skewed.

But analysts say the nation remains roughly 50:50 for and against Maduro. Both sides dispute that, however, saying they are on top and will prove it at the Dec. 8 municipal elections.

Beyond that, opposition leaders are looking towards a possible recall referendum in 2016 to try to end Maduro's rule.

You May Like

Multimedia Obama Defends Immigration Action

Obama says with his executive action on immigration, enforcement resources will be focused on 'felons, not families; criminals, not children' More

US-Led Airstrikes in Syria Kill Over 900: Monitoring Group

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the toll includes more than 50 civilians, five of them women and eight of them children More

Report: Obama Broadens US Combat Role in Afghanistan

The New York Times says resident Barack Obama has signed a classified order extending the role of US troops in Afghanistan for another year More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid

More Americas News

Vazquez Is Favorite to Win Uruguay Presidential Vote

Leftist ruling party candidate buoyed by widespread affection for country's outgoing leader, strong economic growth
More

Brazil's Rousseff Struggles to Limit Petrobras Scandal's Damage

President expects bribery scandal at state-run oil company to deteriorate in coming months, aides say, with arrests possible for some political allies
More

Mexico, Central America Hail Obama's Immigration Reform

Mexican leader calls US president's proposals 'most important measures taken in several decades'
More

Torturers of Chilean President's Father Sentenced to Jail

Judge sentences 2 retired colonels to prison for committing 'crime of torture resulting in the death' of Alberto Bachelet Martinez during early days of Pinochet dictatorship
More

NYC Immigrant Advocates Praise Obama Move, Vow to Continue Fight

Threatened refusal by Republican congressional leaders to cooperate will backfire politically, attorney insists
More

Obama's Immigration Action: What It All Means

Attorney Camille Mackler is director of legal initiatives at advocacy group New York Immigration Coalition, and she discusses specifics of the action
More