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

Kurdish Party Pushes Political Gamble to Run in Turkey Poll

HDP announces it will run as political party instead of fielding independent candidates in June election, but faces tough 10 percent threshold More

Twitter Targets Islamic State

New research shows suspending Twitter accounts of Islamic State, its supporters has been effective; group, its backers are facing 'significant pressure,' says terrorism expert More

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

Majur Juac made the leap from being a refugee in Africa to a master chess champion in US, where he shares his expertise with students More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Spacei
X
Rosanne Skirble
January 27, 2015 5:05 PM
The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.
Video

Video Saved By a Mistake - an Auschwitz Survivor's Story

Dagmar Lieblova was 14 when she arrived at Auschwitz in December 1943, along with her entire Czech Jewish family. All of them were to die there, but she was able to leave after several months due to a bureaucratic mix-up which saved her life. Now 85, with three children and six grandchildren, she says she has a feeling of victory. This report by Ahmad Wadiei and Farin Assemi, of RFE/RL's Radio Farda is narrated by RFE’s Raymond Furlong.
Video

Video Weekly Protests in Korea Keep Japanese WWII Atrocities Alive

Every week in Seoul protesters gather in front of the Japanese Embassy to demand an apology and reparations from Tokyo for the thousands of South Korean women who were forced into prostitution during World War II. Although this year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, these protestors have helped keep the issue of comfort women alive and made it difficult for Japan to move beyond its past wartime atrocities. VOA's Brian Padden reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Exercise: New Prescription for Parkinsons Disease

Exercise could be the new prescription for Parkinson's Disease, a progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects movement. More than six million people worldwide suffer from Parkinsons and they're traditionally treated with medication and surgery. Shelley Schlender has more.
Video

Video Brussels Shaken as New Greek Leader Challenges Europe’s Austerity Drive

Greece’s youngest-ever prime minister, 40-year-old Alexis Tsipras, was sworn in Monday after his victorious far-left Syriza party entered a coalition with far right rivals. Tsipras says he will restore dignity to Greece by ending spending cuts. So begins a new chapter for the country at the epicenter of Europe’s economic crisis - a change that has sent tremors across the continent, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visit

U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video White House Grapples With Yemen Counterterrorism Strategy

Reports say the U.S. has carried out a drone strike on suspected militants in Yemen, the first after President Barack Obama offered reassurances the U.S. is continuing its counterterrorism operations in the country. The future of those operations has been in question following the collapse last week of Yemen’s government. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Oil Price Drop Troubles Texas Producers

As oil prices have fallen over the past several months, drilling operations have slowed in some parts of the United States - including Texas, the state that surpasses all others in energy production. The Lone Star State’s energy output has been boosted in recent years by development of resources trapped deep below ground in the Eagle Ford shale deposit, which stretches across south central Texas. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Karnes City, Texas, the drop in oil prices has created concerns,
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid

More Americas News

Chilean MPs Approve Measure Allowing Civil Unions

Bill will give many legal rights afforded to married couples to about two million more Chileans - mostly unmarried heterosexuals but also gay couples
More

Don't Meddle in Our Politics, Cuba's Leader Warns US

Fomenting opposition to Cuba's government will undermine efforts at normalizing bilateral relations, he says at summit in Costa Rica
More

Owner of Gun That Killed Argentine Prosecutor Emerges From Hiding

Diego Lagomarsino says he lent firearm for protection to Alberto Nisman, who was probing 1994 bombing of Buenos Aires Jewish community center
More

Rights Group: MPs in Dozens of Countries Face Abuse

Inter-Parliamentary Union rights committee reports more than 300 lawmakers in 40 countries subject to dangers, including death
More

Mexico Confirms Missing Students Murdered by Drug Gang

Until now, the government had said only that the students were almost certainly murdered after clashing that night with corrupt police officers
More

Twin Chicago Traffickers-Turned-Informants Sentenced

Pedro and Margarito Flores get 14-year terms in exchange for cooperating in a case against Mexican drug cartel leaders
More