On the night of December 2, a large-scale power outage plunged large parts of Venezuela into darkness. Power was cut in Caracas and other cities around the country in the evening for several hours, which affected both residents and commuters. The outage was similar to the massive blackout on September 5, one of the worst in the country’s history.
President Nicolas Maduro, a 50-year-old former bus driver who narrowly won a presidential election this year after the death of his mentor, the former leader Hugo Chavez, accused the opposition of deliberately sabotaging the power grid to discredit him.
His ally, the National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello, repeated the same accusation after the latest blackout. Reuters quoted him as saying on Twitter: “I have no doubt that today’s electricity sabotage is part of the right-wing’s plan.”
Venezuela has been suffering periodic electricity cuts around the country since 2009, although the capital has been spared the worst outages. Critics say the power problems symbolise the failure of the government and its 15 years of socialist policies in resource-rich Venezuela. The country has the world’s largest crude oil reserves and big rivers that feed hydroelectric facilities generating two-thirds of its power.
The blackouts, some due to planned power rationing and at other times to utility failures, have not affected the oil refineries, which are powered by separate generator plants. State oil company PDVSA said its installations were all working normally.
Power began returning to most parts of Caracas within an hour or two, though remoter parts of the nation of 29 million people were still in the dark late into the evening.
Since winning office in April, Maduro has accused political opponents of conniving with wealthy businessmen and their allies in the United States to undermine his government.
As well as claiming they were sabotaging the power grid, he has alleged plots to assassinate him and to destroy the economy through price-fixing and the hoarding of products.
Venezuelans are suffering from a 54% annual inflation rate, as well as scarcities of basic products from flour to toilet paper.
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles said the reasons for the power failures were due to lack of investment, incompetence and corruption within the state-run power company Corpoelec since Chavez’s 2007 nationalisation of the sector.
According to Reuters, Venezuela has a maximum generation capacity of about 28,000 megawatts and normal demand of about 18,000MW.
In September an official investigation into a 2012 explosion at Venezuela’s Amuay refinery also concluded sabotage was to blame for one of the worst incidents the world’s oil industry has seen in decades.
The oil minister Rafael Ramirez said the August 2012 blast that killed more than 40 people and paralysed the 645,000 barrel-per-day plant came from a suspiciously quick release of gas rather than a gradual leak.
“The investigation committee has concluded without any doubt that the origin of the accident has to do with a deliberate act of sabotage,” Ramirez said, adding that a huge cloud of gas formed in 10 minutes and then was ignited by a spark in a car-park.
In his comments to a local TV station, Ramirez said the gas had come from a pump in block 23 of the installation, and that the supposed saboteurs had a detailed knowledge of the refinery, but he gave no further specifics of the allegations.
President Maduro’s government regularly claims that its opponents are responsible for the country’s frequent infrastructure failures and related loss of life, but has yet to provide clear evidence of this.
Opposition leaders say the refinery and power cut accusations are a smokescreen to distract Venezuelans from government incompetence. An opposition investigation into the Amuay disaster concluded that poor maintenance and inadequate investment were to blame.