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New Venezuela blackout, Guterres warns Maduro, US warns Russia

The head of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, in Washington on March 1, 2019. EFE-EPA/Lenin Nolly

The head of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, in Washington on March 1, 2019.

EFE-EPA/Lenin Nolly

EFE

A new power blackout hit a large part of Venezuela on Monday just three weeks after an outage left almost the entire country without electricity, but no official announcement has yet been made regarding the area affected.

EFE verified that several parts of the capital were without power and Caracas Metro service has been interrupted.

Opposition lawmaker Carlos Valero said on his Twitter account that besides Caracas, the blackout is affecting the states of Aragua, Delta Amacuro, Lara, Zulia, Monagas, Bolivar, Portuguesa, Yaracuy, Anzoategui, Merida, Tachira, Nueva Esparta, Carabobo and Miranda, but he offered no further details.

The state-run National Electric Corporation (Corpoelec) still has not made any public statement about the new blackout, but state VTV television said that the Caracas Metro had implemented its contingency plan for such situations.

Electric Energy Minister Luis Motta Dominguez has not issued any statement on the extent of the situation either.

This new power outage comes after the massive blackout the country suffered on March 7, which kept virtually the whole country in the dark for five days until the Nicolas Maduro government managed to get control of the situation and restore electric service.

The government said at the time that sabotage at the Guri hydroelectric center - the country’s largest power plant, supplying about 70 percent of the national territory - was to blame for the blackout.

Maduro directly blamed the United States and the Venezuelan opposition for the so-called sabotage, claiming that “electromagnetic” attacks had been staged on the electric grid.

The opposition, however, blamed the Maduro regime for failures in the system, saying that the government’s poor management of the electric grid was the real cause of the outage.

The earlier blackout resulted in about 15 deaths due to the lack of electricity to power lifesaving equipment at Venezuelan hospitals, the opposition claims, although authorities say that just two people died.

Meanwhile, on Monday United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned the Maduro government that repressing the opposition would be “a mistake” and could wind up having “dramatic consequences” for the country.

“For the secretary-general, any repression against the Venezuelan opposition would not only be a mistake, but could also lead to a escalation of dramatic consequences for the Venezuelans,” said Guterres spokesperson Stephane Dujarric at his daily press conference.

Dujarric was responding to a reporter’s question about the Maduro’s regime’s arrest on charges of terrorism of Roberto Marrero, the chief of staff for the head of the opposition-controlled Parliament and self-proclaimed interim president, Juan Guaido.

Marrero was arrested last Thursday morning during a raid on his home where, the government claimed, law enforcement officials found two rifles, a grenade and a large amount of cash.

At the time, the UN expressed its “concern” over Marrero’s arrest and asked all parties to take “immediate measures” to reduce tensions.

On the weekend, the Maduro government said that Guaido’s party, Voluntad Popular, was planning to “assassinate” several Chavista leaders using Central American paramilitaries.

As proof, the government presented alleged conversations in a messaging group supposedly between VP leaders, which the Venezuelan justice system gained access to via Marrero’s mobile phone.

Tensions in Venezuela increased dramatically after Maduro was inaugurated in mid-January to a second six-year term, whereupon Guaido proclaimed himself interim president and received the recognition of more than 50 countries as the country’s legitimate leader.

Dujarric reiterated on Monday that the UN supports the initiatives currently under way to try and reach a solution to the crisis through dialogue, despite the fact that Guterres has preferred not to participate actively in those discussions so as to preserve his neutrality.

The Portuguese diplomat has repeatedly offered to serve as a mediator if the Maduro government and the opposition request it.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday in a telephone conversation warned his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that Washington will not stand idly by while Moscow “exacerbates” tensions in Venezuela.

“The secretary (Pompeo) told Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov that the United States and regional countries will not stand idly by as Russia exacerbates tensions in Venezuela,” State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said in a statement.

During the call, Palladino said, the secretary of state told Lavrov that “The continued insertion of Russian military personnel to support the illegitimate regime of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela risks prolonging the suffering of the Venezuelan people who overwhelmingly support interim President Juan Guaido.”

According to the statement, the top US diplomat urged Russia to “cease its unconstructive behavior” and join other nations, including the overwhelming majority of nations in the Western Hemisphere, who - he said - are seeking a better future for the Venezuelan people.

On Sunday, two Russian military aircraft landed at Maiquetia International Airport, Venezuela’s main air hub which also serves Caracas, according to reports by local media outlets and an opposition lawmaker.

According to the daily El Nacional, almost 100 Russian troops arrived in the South American country with 35 tons of unspecified equipment and other gear under the command of Maj. Gen. Vasily Tonkoshkurov.

The reason for the visit by Russian military personnel to Venezuela is not known, although Caracas and Moscow last December had said that they would begin “discussions on combined efforts” to raise the defense capabilities of the South American country to repel “possible attacks.”

At that time, a squadron of Russian military planes, including two Tu-160 strategic bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons, participated in joint military exercises with Venezuelan forces.

Russia is one of Maduro’s biggest allies, backing him publicly against the challenge from Guaido, the president of the opposition-controlled Parliament, who on Jan. 23 proclaimed himself interim president and was shortly thereafter recognized by more than 50 nations, including the United States, as Venezuela’s legitimate leader.

Since then, Washington has taken assorted action to pressure Maduro to leave office, including revoking the visas of certain Venezuelan citizens and placing sanctions on Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), the South American country’s state-run oil company and the main source of foreign currency earnings for Caracas.

Also in Washington, the Organization of American States on Monday said that the arrival of Russian troops in Venezuela over the weekend was an “inadmissible” act to support Maduro that violates the South American country’s constitution.

The OAS said that the Kremlin’s dispatch of about 100 troops to Venezuela aboard military aircraft was done without the authorization of the opposition-controlled Parliament, and thus it violates Article 187 of the Venezuelan charter.

The international body also said that such a move violates Venezuelan sovereignty.


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