CARACAS: Venezuela’s defense minister has accused the United States of masterminding a crippling power cut that has left virtually the entire South American country without electricity and stirred fears that its crisis could be entering a volatile new phase.
In a televised address from the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, Vladimir Padrino López claimed the “North American empire” was behind a “criminal aggression” designed to “disrupt and attack” Nicolás Maduro’s beleaguered administration.
Nearly all of Venezuela’s 23 states were cast into darkness on Thursday afternoon after the most severe power cut in the country’s recent history.
“No one can be so naive to think this was the result of bad luck or chance,” Padrino López said on Friday as millions of Venezuelan citizens prepared for a second night in the dark.
“This is an aggression designed to destablise the Venezuelan people and the Venezuelan state.” he said.
Padrino López claimed the alleged US “attack” – supposedly conducted against the Guri hydroelectric plant in southern Venezuela that supplies much of the country’s electricity – had been “prepared, planned and well-defined” in Washington and admitted it had caused “difficulties”.
But Padrino López insisted Maduro’s officials and the armed forces were fighting back. “We are here to transmit a message of peace to all of the Venezuelan people … all is calm.”
Earlier, the vice-president, Delcy Rodríguez, denounced the incident – which experts attribute to mismanagement, corruption and poor maintenance – as part of “a perverse plan” to overthrow Maduro.
Hugo Chávez’s political heir is facing a battle to retain power after the opposition leader Juan Guaidó declared himself Venezuela’s rightful interim leader on 23 January and was recognized by most western governments, including the United States and Britain.
But Maduro has hardly been seen or heard from since the lights went out, his only public statements coming in the form of two tweets in which he blamed the US and vowed: “We will prevail!”
In contrast, Guaidó appeared at a rally in Caracas where he urged his supporters to return to the streets for fresh protests on Saturday and claimed they were “very, very close” to forcing Maduro from power.
The Venezuelan capital was eerily quiet on Friday as fears grew over the human cost of the blackout and its potential to further unsettle the crisis-stricken country.
Harrowing video footage posted on social media showed doctors trying to keep children breathing at the capital’s Supreme Commander Hugo Chávez paediatric hospital after it lost power.