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Opposition behind massive power outage, Venezuela's leader declares

September 04, 2013|By Mery Mogollon and Chris Kraul
  • A fan looks at his laptop as he waits for play to resume at a World Cup qualifying basketball game during a power outage Tuesday in Caracas, Venezuela.
A fan looks at his laptop as he waits for play to resume at a World Cup qualifying… (Ariana Cubillos / Associated…)

CARACAS, Venezuela — With parts of Venezuela still dark after a mysterious blackout that left the capital and 17 states without electricity, President Nicolas Maduro was to meet Wednesday with public utility and military officials to respond to the power failure, which he blamed on opposition sabotage.

The power shutdown began midday Tuesday after an apparent failure involving high-voltage transmission lines in western Aragua and Guarico states, which led to total power outage in several of the country’s most populous areas.

Power was restored Tuesday night to metropolitan Caracas, the capital, and five states, according to a statement by Communications Minister Delcy Rodriguez.

In a Twitter message Tuesday night, Maduro said the failure was due to an “electricity coup” engineered by the “extreme right.” Claiming he had authorized several new power projects to address shortages, Maduro maintained his opponents were conspiring to destabilize the country.

Maduro did not offer specifics on how the alleged sabotage had been accomplished. He blamed an outage in February on unnamed opposition figures as well, and last month declared a state of emergency, sending police and soldiers to occupy power installations.

Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez said members of the Sebin domestic intelligence service had been “deployed across the nation to protect the population.” Energy Minister Jesse Chacon said Tuesday that an investigation has been launched into the causes.

Venezuela’s power system has been plagued by problems caused by a lack of investment and maintenance, critics have charged. But Maduro has countered that the outages are a result of a “low-intensity campaign” that is leading up to a “final assault on the revolutionary base."

Maduro took power in January as his leftist mentor, President Hugo Chavez, was suffering from cancer and in the last days of his life. Maduro won election in April to fill out Chavez’s just-begun six-year term, but has never enjoyed his predecessor’s charisma or sure ability to hold together the disparate groups that make up the ruling coalition.

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Special correspondents Mogollon reported from Caracas and Kraul from Bogota, Colombia.

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