PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. – Dozens of people lined up with buckets and other containers to get water from a filthy drainage pipe in the Guaire river near Caracas. It was one of the many scenes of desperation on Monday in Venezuela.
Venezuelans have been experiencing paralyzing power blackouts since Thursday. These are affecting every sector and public service that depends on the reliability of the national electricity grid including oil production, water plants, transportation, communication and education.
Amid a shortage of food and medications, Venezuelan authorities were responding to reports of looting. While the situation grew dire at hospitals and there were long lines at the few gas stations that remained operational, the country's two leaders were blaming each other.
Embattled President Nicolas Maduro blamed the outage on imperialist sabotage. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo fired back saying Cuba is the true imperialist power in Venezuela.
Juan Guaidó, who is recognized as Venezuela's interim president by more than 50 countries including the U.S. and EU member states, blamed the outage on Maduro's administration's mismanagement and corruption. He declared a state of emergency at the National Assembly refuting Maduro's claims.
Winston Cabas, the head of Venezuela's electrical engineers union, told The Associated Press critical conductors had overheated at the hydroelectric station at the Guri Dam, the cornerstone of the country's electrical grid, and said the problem was due to a lack of maintenance.
"The system is vulnerable, fragile and unstable," he said.
The electricity operator disagreed with Cabas saying the Guri Dam, which supplies four out of five Venezuelans, was sabotaged and a government spokesman said during an interview on TeleSur there was a cyberattack and Sen. Marco Rubio was aware of it before authorities were.
Dr. Jose Manuel Olivares, an opposition assemblyman who is an oncologist, reported there were at least 24 deaths at hospitals that are operating without power. Dr. Julio Castro, head of the non-governmental organization Doctors for Health, reported most of the hospitals had failing generators.