Power Still Flickering, Venezuelans Take to Streets for Rival Protests
CARACAS — Venezuelan authorities struggled to restore power on Saturday, the third day of the country’s most extensive blackout in recent memory, while opposition and pro-government demonstrators gathered for rival marches under a heavy military presence.
Power was intermittent in the capital, Caracas, and remained off in large portions of the country’s west. State utility workers say it will take days to fully restore the national grid.
In Caracas, residents lined up outside food stores and gasoline stations to try to restock supplies and fuel, and security forces dispersed at least one group of opposition supporters who tried to protest the blackout.
The nationwide power failure has intensified pressure on President Nicolás Maduro, who has yet to appear in public since a problem at Venezuela’s main hydropower plant on Thursday afternoon plunged the country into darkness. Backup generators at upmarket hotels, which have become sanctuaries for Caracas’s affluent, began running out of fuel by Saturday.
Mr. Maduro and his ministers have blamed the blackout on sabotage, without providing evidence, and have said the United States was behind it.
Still, the very problems caused by the blackout — a loss of communication and public transportation — have hindered the opposition from fully capitalizing on public discontent. A march called by the opposition leader Juan Guaidó in the capital attracted several thousand people.
“I’m here because I can’t take it anymore,” said Maria Elena Jiménez, a retiree draped in a Venezuelan flag. Venezuela’s economic crisis, she said, had broken her family apart: Her daughter emigrated and her brother was killed in a robbery outside his house last year. Crying, she asked,“How am I going to stay in my house when my country has touched the bottom?”
The blackout has crippled public transportation, devastated scarce food supplies and threatened the lives of thousands of patients. Opposition leaders claimed that 79 patients across the country had died in hospitals because of the blackout, although that figure could not be independently corroborated.
Economists and rights groups say it will take weeks to take the full stock of the economic and human cost of the blackout.
But deprivation was on the minds of opposition protesters on Saturday. “With my wage I can only buy a kilogram of meat, a carton of eggs and some detergent to wash my clothes,” said Luis Bravo, a Caracas university professor.