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Nerves fray, tempers flare as Venezuela blackout hits fourth…

Socialism dies in the darkness

Nerves fray, tempers flare as Venezuela blackout hits fourth...

Socialism dies in the darkness

CARACAS, March 10 (Reuters) – Furious Venezuelans lined up to buy water and fuel on

Sunday as the country endured a fourth day of a nationwide blackout that has left

already-scarce food rotting in shops, homes suffering for lack of water and cell

phones without reception.

 

Authorities have managed to provide only patchy access to power since the outage

began on Thursday in what President Nicolas Maduro called an act of U.S.-backed

sabotage, but critics insist it is the result of incompetence and corruption.

The government on Sunday suspended school and business activities for the following

day without providing any information on a likely time frame for resolving the

situation, leaving many fretting that it could extend indefinitely.

 

The country’s worst-ever power outage comes as Maduro faces a hyperinflationary

economic collapse and an unprecedented political crisis. Opposition leader Juan

Guaido in January invoked the constitution to assume the presidency after declaring

Maduro’s 2018 re-election a fraud.

 

Angry residents of the Caracas neighborhood of Chacao on Sunday set up barricades

along a main avenue and on side streets to protest the continued blackout.

“The food we had in our refrigerators has spoiled, businesses are closed, there’s

no communication, not even by cell phone,” Ana Cerrato, 49, a merchant, standing in

front of a pile of razor wire and debris.

“We need help! We are in a humanitarian crisis!”

 

Lines at fuel stations extended for blocks as drivers queued for gasoline and

busses waited to fill up with diesel. Families stood under the sun to buy potable

water, which is unavailable for most residents whose homes do not have power.

State oil company PDVSA said on Sunday that fuel supplies were guaranteed. But only

around 100 of the country’s 1,800 service stations were operating due to the

blackout, according to gas station industry sources.

Merchants unable to keep refrigerators working began giving away cheese, vegetables

and meat to clients.

Other shops had supplies stolen.

 

One supermarket in southeastern Caracas was looted on Sunday evening, triggering a

shootout with police and National Guard troops, according to Reuters witnesses and

an employee who was present. The looters took food including pasta, rice and tomato

sauce.

 

A neighboring shop selling home goods such as plastic chairs was also looted.

The National Guard rounded up more than 40 people at the scene, tied their hands

behind their backs and ordered them to lie face down on a road that authorities had

blocked during the confrontation, a Reuters witness said.

 

On Saturday night, a small supermarket in a working class area of western Caracas

was looted after protesters barricaded an avenue and clashed with police, according

to neighbors and the shop’s owner, Manuel Caldeira.

 

“They took food, they broke the display windows, they stole scales and point of

sale terminals,” said Caldeira, 58, standing on the shop floor littered with glass.

“We weren’t here (when it happened), we got here and found all of this destroyed.”

 

‘NO DIAGNOSIS’

 

Guaido slammed Maduro’s government for failing to explain what was going on.

“The regime at this hour, days after a blackout without precedent, has no

diagnosis,” he said at a news conference on Sunday.

Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez said on state television that the government

was taking care of the situation, without offering technical details on what was

causing the continued outage.

 

“While the promoters of hate, death and violence delight in their destabilization

plans, President Nicolas Maduro has ordered a deployment of ministers to ensure the

Venezuelan people are attended to,” he said.

 

Guaido invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency in January, arguing

that Maduro’s 2018 re-election was fraudulent. He has been recognized as

Venezuela’s legitimate leader by the United States and most Western countries, but

Maduro retains control of the armed forces and state functions.

 

The so-called Lima Group of nations, which includes Latin American countries that

have vocally opposed Maduro, said in a statement that the blackout was confirmation

of “the humanitarian crisis that Maduro’s regime refuses to recognize.”

 

Elliott Abrams, the Trump administration’s envoy for Venezuela, said Maduro is not

open to negotiations and seems intent on staying put.

Speaking on ABC’s “This Week” program, U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton

said Venezuelan military officers were having conversations with opposition

legislators “about what might come, how they might move to support the opposition.”

 

At Venezuelan hospitals, the blackout combined with the absence or poor performance

of backup generators led to the death of 17 patients across the country, non-

governmental organization Doctors for Health said on Saturday.

Power returned briefly to parts of Caracas and other cities on Friday, but went out

again around midday on Saturday.

 

“One can infer from the delays and the results of the failure that it was a problem

in the lines that leave Guri, rather than in the plant itself,” said Miguel Lara, a

former president of the state-run entity responsible for the electricity system,

referring to the Guri hydroelectric power plant which supplies most of Venezuela’s

electricity.

The extent of the blackout’s impact on the country’s crude oil production – the

source of nearly all the government’s export earnings – remained unclear.

Most of the key joint ventures between PDVSA and foreign partners in the Orinoco

Belt, the country’s main crude region, run on their own generators. But many fields

in western Zulia state depend on the grid.

 

One source at a foreign company partnered with PDVSA in a joint venture said output

was “stable.”

PDVSA did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

In the midst of a second nationwide power outage in Venezuela, the vast majority of the country is engulfed in a massive internet outage. The first electrical blackout, which swept across the nation on Thursday, left Venezuela with only two percent connectivity amid the ongoing presidential crisis. Most of the country has been offline since Thursday with limited or no connectivity being reported across large swaths of the South American nation. The NetBlocks Group, a private internet watchdog organization based in the UK, reported on Saturday that 96 percent of the country was offline:

The group provided an update on Sunday noting that 20 percent now have connectivity.

Gains in connectivity have been lost through a series of three distinct new outages as shown in NetBlocks’ network connectivity charts.
Internet-scale network measurements indicate which regions have been affected and to what extent. During previous network and power outages, concerns have been raised about attacks and military activity, and the risk of human rights violations perpetrated under the cover of darkness.

The chart below shows a precipitous drop in internet connectivity on Thursday with a partial recovery on Saturday followed by another large drop on Sunday.

Venezuela experiences frequent power cuts, and Venezuela started power rationing and reduced its electricity consumption to about 14,000 megawatts at peak hours because of the economic crisis in 2018,” NetBlocks said. “However the nationwide outages are unprecedented in magnitude, extent and duration. NetBlocks historic data suggest that incidents of this scale are vanishingly rare.”

On March 4, NetBlocks reported that the Venezuelan government had blocked YouTube and SoundCloud and partially blocked Twitter.

“Twitter image and video servers and platform backends have been blocked in Venezuela from 3:10 PM UTC on state provider CANTV (AS8048) and its mobile network Movistar, as interim leader Juan Guaidó is set to arrive in Caracas after a tour of neighboring countries,” the organization explained. “The restrictions have been implemented as the leader calls supporters to the streets under the hashtags #4MVzlaALaCalle, #VamosVzla and #VamosJuntosALaCalle.”

Users were reportedly able to access Twitter’s homepage, but videos and images were not loading.

A Twitter user in Venezuela shared what he was seeing on the platform:

SoundCloud, an online streaming service, has been restricted since Feb. 27, when Guaidó tweeted out his audio recordings on the platform. “Guaidó has been a frequent target of state censorship during the ongoing crisis,” NetBlocks said.

On March 7 the group reported that “YouTube has been restricted by Venezuela’s state-run internet provider CANTV (AS8048) for over twenty hours, according to current network measurements from the NetBlocks internet observatory.” Netblock said that the restrictions coincided with live broadcasts from the National Assembly the day before.

The group warned that the internet outage “is likely to have had a significant and lasting impact on Venezuela’s ailing economy.”

“A study by Venezuelan daily Efecto Cocuyo in December using the NetBlocks and Internet Society Cost Of Shutdown Tool calculated that a total outage of connectivity alone would cost the economy more than 400 million US dollars per day,” said NetBlocks. “The impact for the present incident is likely to be even higher given the impact of power outages on industry and non-digital economies.”

On Saturday, Guaidó and Nicolas Maduro — whose disputed re-election in May has been widely delegitimized by the international community — held dueling rallies in the capital city of Caracas. Maduro, an anti-American conspiracy theorist, blamed the U.S. for the blackout, insisting that the electrical grid had been “hacked” and “sabotaged.” He claimed, without providing evidence, that an “international cyber-attack” carried out by the U.S. government and opposition forces was to blame for the ongoing outages.

“The electrical warfare announced and directed by the imperialist United States against our people will be defeated,” Maduro tweeted Friday. “I call for maximum unity patriots!”

He vowed to “clean” Venezuela’s state-run electric company to get rid of “traitors” and “infiltrators.”

The internet outages come at a critical moment for Guaidó, as he attempts to rally opposition forces to oust Maduro. “Such measures are known to be used by authorities to prevent the sharing of media from protests,” NetBlocks said.

Guaidó urged his followers on Saturday to remain strong in the face of the current crisis.

“We have been reporting the electrical crisis for years, and now, we have to alert in a responsible manner that this could also become the gasoline crisis, in addition to the water crisis we already have,” he said.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a staunch supporter of the Venezuelan opposition, took to Twitter on Sunday to blast the Maduro regime and highlight the developing humanitarian crisis:

Source: Nerves fray, tempers flare as Venezuela blackout hits fourth…

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