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Venezuela groping in the dark
Opinion

Venezuela groping in the dark

S.Sivadas

Once the most prosperous, oil-rich country in Latin America, Venezuela, has been brought to its knees with a week-long power cut that has shut down the entire country and reduced its common people to search for water, food and other essential services. The prosperous and well-connected have all fled the country to neighbouring Colombia and Brazil.

With its millions of ordinary people starving and a deadly blackout has left most of the country’s urban areas without power for more than five consecutive days.

This is the not the first time that this oil-rich nation has been hit by power outages, but this month's seem to be the worst in living memory. The United States that has been taking an extraordinary interest in the affairs in Caracas has already pulled out its diplomatic staff anticipating the worst. The US Secretary of State, Mr. Mike Pompeo, has gone so far as to accuse the Nicolas Maduro regime there, and Cuba and Russia for the deepening crisis in Venezuela.

Mr. Pompeo said that ‘Maduro promised Venezuelans a better life in a socialist paradise. And he delivered on the socialism part, which has proved time and time again as a recipe for economic ruin.’ This paradise part does not seem to be much, he quipped. ‘Not so much.’

He painted a grim picture of the country, of the ‘power outages, food shortages, medical shortages, inflation and poverty,’ and declared: ‘The United States did not do that.’ Instead, he directed particular scorn towards Cuba, which he and other Trump administration officials have repeatedly denounced for its support of the Maduro regime.

‘Cuba is the true imperialist power in Venezuela,’ he declared. ‘No nation has done more to sustain the death and daily misery of ordinary Venezuelans, including Venezuela's military and their families, than the communists in Havana.’

Mr. Pompeo also criticized Russia, specifically citing its veto of a United Nations Security Council Resolution on Venezuela and its economic and arms support for the Maduro regime. ‘The PDVSA is today now a personal ATM for the Maduro regime and for Russian oligarchs and kleptocrats,’ Mr. Pompeo remarked, referring to the Venezuelan state-owned oil company.

Earlier the US Treasury Department had announced sanctions against a bank jointly owned by Russian and Venezuelan state companies. According to it, the Moscow-based bank Evrofinance Mosnarbank has ties to PDVSA.

Not stopping with that the Secretary of State also took aim at socialism and communism on the whole as institutions, saying they had laid waste the once flourishing Cuban and Venezuelan economies. The US has also for good measure urged countries like India not to purchase oil from Venezuela and thus support the sanctions.

‘Supermarkets are closed, public transport is barely functioning, doctors are unable to treat hospital patients and food can’t be refrigerated,’ he continued.

The blackouts have affected the water pumps in people’s homes and apartment buildings, leaving large numbers to scramble at natural springs to collect water to drink.

Though no national data has been available about the impact of the power outage, according to an NGO at least 15 patients with advanced kidney diseases had died after they stopped receiving dialysis treatment in darkened hospitals.

There are also reports of a further 10,000 at risk if they continue without treatment.

There are also accounts of food riots and on the streets, locals being arrested for looting as supermarkets close down and the desperation for food grows.

‘We don’t want to loot stores, we don’t want to cause problems. What we want is food. We’re hungry,’ a Caracas resident was heard telling a media crew.

Security forces, meanwhile, have detained large groups of people amid looting, with pro-government biker gangs reportedly enforcing their own vigilante law at gunpoint.

The blackouts have also hit the oil industry and the country hasn’t shipped 506 million dollars worth of oil since the power failures, and ‘the whole system has ground to a halt,’ a Miami-based brokerage firm manager said.

The country’s self-described interim president, Juan Guiado, who has so far officially been recognised by over 50 governments, has called the deaths ‘murders’, pinning the blame squarely on the Maduro government.

‘I can’t call it anything else. Imagine if in your country, you wake up to the news that there’s been four days without electricity because they steal from electricity plants and 17 people have died. That’s murder,’ he said.

But President Nicolas Maduro has another take. He is shifting the blame on the deadly outage squarely to the US government, which has also backed Guiadó.

All the trouble and power shortage seem to have started at the end of January when the US imposed heavy sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry, limiting transactions between US companies that do business with the country.

‘The power war announced and directed by US imperialism against our people will be defeated,’ Maduro had tweeted, suggesting the sanctions had caused or contributed to the deadly blackout.

Not only that, he alleged that the US had committed ‘sabotage’ in the form of an electromagnetic attack on the country’s main hydro-electric complex in Guri, which supplies 80 per cent of its electricity.

Guaidó has dismissed these charges as ‘Hollywoodesque’, describing these as an attempt to divert people's attention from the government’s own failings.

Critics also blame the government for failing to maintain the power grid, as did the Lima Group, a primarily Latin American bloc.

The US special envoy for Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, has categorically denied the US played any role in the blackout. According to him the outage ‘is a reminder that the country’s once quite sophisticated infrastructure has been plundered and allowed to decay under Maduro’s misrule’. He was backed by Guaidó who said the blackout was not due to foreign sabotage. ‘Sabotage is corruption sabotage is not allowing free elections, sabotage is blocking the entry of food and medicine.’ He was referring to the Maduro government’s move to block international humanitarian aid matter.

Thus while this once prosperous country's people forage for food and water in darkness their rival leaders accuse each other for the mismanagement and the big powers play their game in the Latin American chessboard.