Mar.8 (Bloomberg) -- More than 18 hours after Venezuelas lights flickered out, millions remain without power, leaders are trading accusations of conspiracy, and the unraveling nations people are shouldering yet another burden.

There have been any number of power outages in the crisis-torn country in recent years, but this one came amid a bitter, weeks-long power struggle for control, with Washington backing opposition leader Juan Guaidos bid to unseat the autocratic President Nicolas Maduro.

Hours after the country went dark, the Maduro camp sought to hold Washington responsible, accusing the U.S. of sabotaging the grid. Guaido said Venezuela was blessed with natural resources, but cursed by a usurper. U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said the crisis was a prelude to regime change.

On social media, users reported blackouts from the Andes to the Caribbean coast, in about 19 of 23 states. While the socialist government blamed an attack on the nations biggest and closely-guarded hydroelectric plant, other sources of electricity failed to pick up the slack, including thermoelectric units in the countrys center and west. Communication has become difficult, with many mobile-phone batteries losing their charge, as well as sporadic signals.

Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez was quick to identify the U.S. as likely being behind the crisis, a comment Maduro echoed.

The electricity war announced and led by U.S. imperialism against our people will be defeated, Maduro wrote on his Twitter account. No one will defeat the people of Bolivar and Chavez. Maximum unity of the patriots!

Pompeo said the blame rests squarely on the socialist regimes inefficiency and lack of maintenance: Maduros policies bring nothing but darkness. No food. No medicine. Now, no power. Next, no Maduro.

As Maduro fends off a resurgent opposition that says his latest term is illegitimate because it stemmed from a fraudulent election, his administration has ramped-up its accusations that the U.S. is meddling in strictly sovereign affairs by seeking to force Maduros removal. The U.S. is one of 60 countries backing Guaido in his bid to form a transition government while Maduro has kept the loyalty of his allies in Cuba, Russia, China and Turkey.

                                  

Business, Daily Routines

Across Venezuela, Friday dawned amid an eerie calm. The government suspended work and school in the country of 30 million people after thousands were forced to walk home on darkened highways and avenues in urban centers the evening before. Most businesses were shut, with few people on the streets.

The capital, Caracas, had the feel of a sleepy Sunday as residents whiled away time walking dogs or sitting in front of their homes. Many residents tried to go about their daily routines, waiting for buses that never showed or at stores that didnt up pull up the security shutters.

Stop lights were blacked out and the metro was closed, but light traffic flowed. There were no reports of major violence or looting. Police and national guard forces clustered around protected government ministries.

Mayrene Borges, a 55-year-old travel agency janitor, said she stayed with a friend Thursday night because she couldnt reach or communicate with her home in the satellite city of Valle del Tuy. She had been waiting hours in a Caracas plaza for a bus.

The only sabotage here is a government that doesnt work, and its people have to pay the price, she said. Theres no electricity, no water and I wont even talk to you about the food.

Hospitals were hit hard by the outage. Just a few have power generators to partially continue operations, according to Feder Alvarez, a member of Doctors for Health, a local nongovernmental organization. Video posted on social media showed doctors in a maternity ward delivering a baby by the light of mobile phones.

Miguel Lara, a former director of Venezuelas power grid, said from Sao Paulo on Friday that the blackout showed the deterioration of the power infrastructure is even worse than imagined.

Practically nothing is working anymore, not even the backup thermal-power plants, he said. We dont have the replacement parts, the trained personnel.

The lack of power began to isolate the nation. American Airlines canceled its three daily flights from Venezuela to Miami on Friday, spokesman Ross Feinstein said. Internet connectivity data shows some of the last remaining networks have started to fall off line as generators and backups deplete and cell towers shut down, according to internet watchdog group NetBlocks.

Stefania Beitia, a Venezuelan migrant living in Marlow, a town in Englands Thames Valley, said Friday that she couldnt reach her relatives.

Since last night I havent been able to communicate either with my father or my uncle, who are my only family members still in Venezuela, she said. To be without electricity in Venezuela, at a time like this when crime is out of control, is worrying.

Its impossible to know anything about anyone.

Rolling blackouts and water shortages have become a near-daily occurrence across Venezuela as infrastructure falls into disarray after years of mismanagement and exodus of personnel. Major cities and towns often lose power for hours at a time. According to industry analysts, the electrical crisis is due to neglect amid the countrys economic collapse.

But Thursday, the public utility Corpoelec said the blackout happened because the Guri dam was sabotaged. The facility in southern Bolivar state powers almost two thirds of the country.

The sabotage allegations simply arent credible, according to Lara, the former power executive. Guri, he said, is heavily guarded and a virtual attack could have been repaired by isolating faulty equipment.

The consequences of something like this are grave, he said. Collective transportation doesnt work, water stops pumping and the little perishable food people have at home must be thrown away. The economic losses for businesses and industries are huge for a country in an already poor situation.

Juan Ponce, a 34-year-old business administrator, stood in a line of about 50 people at one of the citys few open bakeries. It had both bread and an intermittently functioning debit-card reader.

Every day is more depressing, he said. We feel trapped in a country where every day more and more opportunities close. We dont know whats coming tomorrow.

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Fecha de publicación: 08/03/2019