Venezuela, Seeking Blame for Blackout, Finds Culprit in Opposition Leader
CARACAS, Venezuela — The Venezuelan authorities on Tuesday began investigating the leader of the opposition and detained a prominent journalist, claiming they had played a role in the supposed sabotage of the country’s electrical system. Government critics said it was an effort to deflect blame for a four-day national power failure.
Attorney General Tarek Saab accused Juan Guaidó, the opposition leader who leads a parallel government backed by the United States and about 50 other countries, of masterminding the blackout. He provided no evidence.
Hours earlier, intelligence police detained a prominent radio producer and social media activist, Luis Carlos Díaz, as he rode his bike home from work, according to his wife, Naky Soto. He, too, was accused of having had a role in the blackout.
Neither man has been formally charged.
Mr. Guaidó, who has not been detained, posted a message on Twitter called the claims baseless and accusing the government of using the courts for political persecution.
A human rights group, Foro Penal, said Mr. Díaz was one of about 80 people detained by the government since Thursday in connection to the blackout. The vast majority have not been charged.
The detention of Mr. Díaz convulsed Venezuelan civil society. Some called it President Nicolás Maduro’s most brazen attempt yet to scapegoats critics for the blackout — and for the country’s accelerating economic collapse.
On Thursday, a substation failure at the Guri hydropower plant plunged most of the country into darkness for days. The blackout collapsed Venezuela’s foundering health care system and decimated scarce food stocks in an economy that has shrunk by half since 2013.
The government said it was able to restart the Guri plant early Monday after several failed attempts, and lights returned to most major cities by Tuesday.
Mr. Maduro and his ministers have claimed that industrial sabotage was behind the power failure. They have talked of cyberattacks and electromagnetic attacks on the grid, without providing evidence.
Energy analysts and power sector unionists say the failure was a disaster in waiting caused by years of mismanagement, corruption and brain drain.
Mr. Díaz’s wife, who is fighting breast cancer and chronic neurological disease, held back tears as she pleaded for his release outside the attorney general’s office. She was surrounded by hundreds of supporters and prominent Venezuelan clergymen, journalists and opposition politicians.
Ms. Soto accused Mr. Maduro of abusing her husband to deter Venezuelans from sharing information on social media, which have become the main source of news for most in the country. “The fact that this has happened to such a public person, who has created so many networks, is a message in itself that this could happen to any citizen,” she said.
Her plea brought tears to many who came to hear her speak.
A number of foreign journalists have been take into custody and deported from Venezuela, but Mr. Díaz is the highest-profile Venezuelan journalist to be detained in the country.
Early Tuesday, Ms. Soto and several witnesses said, 16 heavily armed secret police officers brought her handcuffed husband home with a search warrant, taking all his electronic equipment and all the family’s cash savings.
He was taken away to an unknown location and hasn’t been heard of since, Ms. Soto and her lawyers said.
Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations human rights chief and former Chilean president, said she was deeply concerned about Mr. Díaz’s detention, and delivered a rare direct rebuke to Mr. Maduro’s government. Her team is currently on a fact-finding mission in Venezuela.
No public official has been fired or publicly criticized by the central government for the management of the electrical system since the start of the blackout.