The second nationwide major electricity outage in less than a year in Venezuela left large portions of the country in the dark for hours starting Friday, June 17, causing traffic snarls in the capital Caracas and other major cities as authorities scrambled to restore electricity.

Traffic in Caracas ground to a standstill as pedestrians streamed into the streets due to the paralyzed underground metro trains and frustrated drivers honked in the chaos without stoplights.

An outage at a power station in the center of the country led to other generation centers going offline, halting service in that region and in the Andes region in the west, Electricity Minister Jesse Chacon told state television. The problems extended to Maracaibo, Venezuela's second city, and the industrial center of Valencia.

The OPEC nation has suffered an increasing number of power outages in recent years, which critics have attributed to low electricity tariffs and limited state investment following the 2007 nationalization of the power sector.

The blackout twice interrupted a presidential broadcast, and television screens froze for several seconds as President Nicolas Maduro was speaking during a broadcast of the awards ceremony for a national journalism prize. Maduro in December blamed a similar power outage on opposition saboteurs.

The blackouts persisted for part of the weekend. On Monday morning, families in several communities in Caracas reported brownouts and slumps in the electrical service.

Critics call the power problems a symptom of 15 years of socialist policies that have left the country without a steady supply of energy despite having the world's largest oil reserves. Late leader Hugo Chavez in 2007 nationalized the country's power sector as part of a broad wave of state takeovers.

Rubio seeks to accelerate sanctions against Venezuelan government

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio called on colleagues in the Senate to vote in favor of sanctions against Venezuelan government representatives involved in human rights violations in Venezuela when they return from recess July 7.

Rubio, who along with Sen. Bob Menendez has been promoting the measure for the past several weeks, announced that he would be willing to apply for an open vote in the full Senate. Efforts to pass the resolution in the Senate through a rapid approval mechanism known as unanimous consent are being blocked by the objections of a single lawmaker, presumably Republican Sen. Bob Corker, who also opposed the proposal when they voted on the Foreign Relations Committee in March.

"This is an issue that virtually every member of the Senate -- but for one or two, at this point appears one -- is supportive of. And I hope we can pass it because it is important. It will matter," Rubio said in his Senate floor speech June 26. "This is not sanctions, for example, like the ones we've seen in the past on other countries. These are extremely targeted. These are targeted against individuals in the Venezuelan government who have directed or carried out gross human rights violations."

The resolution is very similar to what has already passed the House of Representatives under the leadership of U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and asks President Barack Obama to freeze visas and U.S. assets of those involved in the repression undertaken by the Nicolás Maduro regime against people protesting against actions that have claimed at least 43 dead, nearly 900 injured and more than 2,500 arrested since February.

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