Guaido calls for blackout emergency decree, confirms 17 dead

A border crossing point between Colombia and Venezuela. EFE-EPA/File

A border crossing point between Colombia and Venezuela. EFE-EPA/File


The head of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled Parliament, Juan Guaido, who has been recognized as the country’s interim president by about 50 governments around the world, on Sunday announced that he will ask lawmakers to decree a “state of emergency” to deal with the “catastrophe” being experienced by the country as a result of a power blackout that now has lasted some 70 hours.

Guaido said at a press conference at the National Assembly in Caracas that the legislative body “will go into emergency session (on Monday) to evaluate a state of national emergency and take (appropriate) action.”

“We’re going to ask Parliament (to decree the emergency). We must attend to it immediately,” Guaido insisted without specifying what powers the interim government he heads would be able to accrue to itself if the decree were to be approved.

He said that the opposition was maintaining “talks” with a German company with the ability to immediately provide electrical plants and other supplies needed to stabilize the electric grid.

Most of Venezuela has been without electricity since Thursday at 5 pm, when the Guri hydroelectric facility - the country’s most important such installation, providing service to 70 percent of the national territory - went down.

The Nicolas Maduro government said at the time that the installation had been the target of a “cyberattack” launched by the United States, the country his regime habitually blames for all of Venezuela’s serious problems.

But Guaido said Sunday that the blackout was not caused by sabotage and pointed to lack of investment and poor management as the true causes of the prolonged shutdown of the electric grid.

In addition, he criticized the response of the Maduro regime to the crisis and for refusing to fully inform the public of the cause of the problem and efforts being made to resolve it.

“How is it possible that at this time there’s no report of what is happening at Guri?” Guaido said.

In addition, he reiterated his call to the armed forces to turn their backs on Maduro and stop repressing the people who are turning out to demonstrate around the country demanding an end to the country’s crisis.

“You already know that the one who was commander in chief failed, that he can’t speak for himself, that he won’t even show his face,” Guaido said, directing his words to the military.

Electrical power outages are ongoing problems in Venezuela, a country that has been suffering amid an economic, social and political crisis despite the fact that it has the largest proven petroleum reserves on the planet, along with other resources.

Guaido also confirmed Sunday that 17 people have died in hospitals around the country due to the blackout.

“There are 17 confirmed dead, 15 of them in Maturin, but because of the lack of communications we haven’t been able to monitor 17 of the 40 hospitals that are normally monitored,” the opposition leader said during his press conference at the National Assembly.

On the social networks, however, many people are reporting that there could be about 40 fatalities resulting from the blackout, many of them dialysis patients.

Meanwhile, The New York Times reported Sunday that the fire that destroyed humanitarian supplies in an aid convoy heading for Venezuela most likely was caused when an opposition member mishandled a Molotov cocktail, thus discounting the prevailing narrative that the Maduro regime had caused the blaze.

The daily, which examined video images along with other material to reconstruct the Feb. 23 incident, said that a thrown Molotov cocktail was the most likely cause for the fire that destroyed some 40 tons of aid - ostensibly a shipment of medicine - on board several trucks.

Police loyal to the Maduro regime at the time were blocking the border crossing between Colombia and Venezuela so that no aid could enter, when a homemade bottle bomb can be seen in the video arcing out of the ranks of the opposition members in the area.

The bomb landed near one of the aid trucks, which moments later went up in flames, after which other vehicles caught fire, a chain reaction that was blamed - according to unverified reports - on the Maduro regime.

The Maduro regime on Sunday for the second time suspended school classes and work activities due to the extensive power blackout affecting much of the country, although some parts of Caracas have had electricity restored, at least intermittently.

“We want to announce that on March 11, work activities ... and classes at all educational levels will be suspended,” Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez told state-run VTV television, after a similar announcement had been made for last Friday.

Also, three members of the crew of a Spanish Air Europa airline jet on Saturday endured a carjacking and/or robbery attempt as they were traveling in a van to a Caracas hotel where they were to spend the night, although nobody was injured and the crewmembers have now returned to Madrid.

Criminals apparently tried to stop the van, but the driver managed to move past them, ultimately arriving at the hotel, where the crewmembers quickly exited the vehicle and got into the building.

Air Europa has since decided that no crewmembers will spend the night in the Venezuelan capital due to the lack of security that has become evident with the incident. They will overnight in the Dominican Republic instead, should that prove necessary.

Two Air Europa crews comprising four pilots and 16 flight attendants and other crewmembers returned to Spain on Sunday.

Also on Sunday, US lawmakers Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Donna Shalala visited the Colombian border city of Cucuta, where humanitarian aid is being stockpiled for shipment into Venezuela, and they said that US Democrat and Republican legislators were united in their insistence that aid be sent in to the Venezuelan people to alleviate the crisis in that country.

The two lawmakers toured the aid warehousing site and staging point near the Tienditas border bridge where more than 600 tons of aid - including food, medical products and other items - are being held until they can be moved into Venezuela.