Venezuela seeks to restore power amid looting; China offers help

CARACAS/MARACAIBO, Venezuela,  (Reuters) – President Nicolas Maduro’s government scrambled yesterday to return power to western Venezuela following heavy looting in the country’s second largest city, while China offered to help the OPEC-member nation end its worst blackout on record.

Power had returned to many parts of Venezuela after a nationwide outage last week, with the country’s main port terminal of Jose, which is crucial for oil exports, resuming operations. The government said people could return to work on Thursday, following several consecutive public holidays due to the lack of electricity.

School will remain suspended for 24 more hours, Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez said in a state television broadcast on Wednesday, adding that power supply had been broadly restored but problems remained in some areas with transformers that had been “sabotaged.”

The ruling Socialist Party blamed the outage on U.S. sabotage, accusing President Donald Trump of being responsible for several cyber attacks on Venezuela’s main dam.

Energy supplies remained patchy in the sweltering western state of Zulia, where anger after nearly a week without power overflowed into street violence.

Looters smashed shop windows and made off with merchandise in more than 300 businesses across the state along the border with Colombia, the Zulia chapter of business organization Fedecamaras said in a statement.

“About 100 people came into the store and took all the food, the point of sale terminals,” said Maria Centeno, 29, the owner of a store selling food and furniture that was looted on Sunday. “They were people from the community. The police came by and they told me to sort it out myself.”

Following the wave of pillaging on Sunday, many businesses sold off their remaining merchandise on the cheap for fear of more looting.

The country’s top food company, Empresas Polar, said four facilities in Maracaibo, Venezuela’s biggest city after Caracas, had been sacked this week, with looters making off with water, soft drinks and pasta.

The Information Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In Maracaibo, once known for flashy displays of oil wealth, people bought food at the few business that remained open. Gasoline lines stretched for blocks.

“In my house I have one kilo of rice and one kilo of lentils,” said Jose Navas, 53, a security guard. “That’s what I’ll eat today. What will I eat tomorrow? This is really bad.”

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