CARACAS, (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.
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.