More blackouts hit Venezuela as opposition, government rally
CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuelan opposition and government loyalists held rival demonstrations in Caracas on Saturday, as both sides prepared for what some fear could be a protracted power struggle.
The rallies unfolded as power and communications outages continued to hit Venezuela, intensifying the hardship of a country paralyzed by economic and political crisis. The blackouts heightened tension between the divided factions, which accused each other of being responsible for the collapse of the power grid.
“Hard times are ahead,” said opposition leader Juan Guaido, who addressed crowds with a loudspeaker after security forces dismantled a speakers’ stage the opposition had erected.
The 35-year-old leader of the National Assembly said he anticipated more government efforts to sideline and intimidate the opposition. However, President Nicolas Maduro’s government has not moved directly against Guaido since he returned to Venezuela from a Latin American tour Monday.
On Saturday, Maduro stepped up verbal attacks on Guaido, calling him “a clown and puppet” in a speech outside Miraflores, the presidential palace. He scoffed at Guaido’s claim in late January to be interim president, a declaration supported by the United States and about 50 other countries.
“Not a president, not anything,” said Maduro, who accused Guaido and his U.S. allies of sabotaging Venezuela’s Guri Dam, one of the world’s largest hydroelectric stations.
He said authorities had restored 70 percent of power in Venezuela since what he called an “international cyberattack” late Thursday, but progress was lost Saturday when “infiltrators” allegedly struck again.
In another blow to Venezuela’s infrastructure, an explosion occurred at a power station in the country’s Bolivar state Saturday, according to local media.
Netblocks, a non-government group based in Europe that monitors internet censorship, said Saturday that the second outage had knocked out almost all of Venezuela’s telecommunications infrastructure.