Venezuelan blackout eases in some areas; opposition rallies

By SCOTT SMITH and CHRISTOPHER TORCHIA, Associated Press

CARACAS, Venezuela - Venezuela's opposition on Tuesday sought to harness anger over a massive blackout that deepened hardship nationwide, but a relatively modest turnout at a Caracas demonstration highlighted the weariness of Venezuelans who despair of an imminent solution to their plight.

Lights came back on in parts of the capital and other areas of Venezuela overnight following a nearly nine-hour outage that the government blamed on an "electromagnetic attack" against the power grid, without providing any evidence. Government opponents say years of mismanagement and corruption were to blame.

Electricity supply remained unstable in many regions. The blackout knocked out communications and the Caracas metro on Monday, forcing commuters to walk home or hustle for a spot on packed buses. The metro remained out of operation Tuesday.

The scenes in the capital were familiar, even though Caracas has been mostly spared the debilitating power cuts that persisted in other parts of the country after nationwide outages in March. The latest blackout didn't make much difference to people with scarce power in Maracaibo, Venezuela's second-largest city.

Maritza Arámbula, a Maracaibo resident, said she was tired of a government that makes "excuses" and an opposition continually seeking support from Venezuela's exhausted citizens.

"We need solutions, not promises," Arámbula said. "Not having light makes me sick."

In Caracas, the opposition-led congress held a session in a main square to try to keep pressure on the government of President Nicolás Maduro, who has defied U.S.-led efforts to oust him. Opposition leader Juan Guaidó appeared in front of bunting in the colors of the Venezuelan flag - red, blue and yellow - and said, as he often has in the past, that the government he calls a "dictatorship" is crumbling.

"We have to win," he said.

In addition to congress deputies, several hundred other people attended the event, a far smaller crowd than the throngs that poured into the streets in January when Guaidó declared he was interim president and that Maduro's 2018 re-election was a sham. Some activists said the turnout was low because public transport wasn't available, though opposition demonstrations in Caracas have diminished in size over several months.

In January, expectations of change were high among many Venezuelans. But Maduro dug in, maintaining the support of Russia, Cuba and Venezuelan military leaders who ignored an opposition attempt to stoke a military rebellion on April 30. Now negotiations mediated by Norway are underway, worrying opposition activists who fear the government is playing for time.

Guaidó tweeted about the nationwide blackout, blaming it on the incompetence of a government that claims to espouse the socialist principles of Maduro's late predecessor, Hugo Chávez.

"For Venezuelans, it's not an option to get used to this tragedy," he said.

The Venezuelan government blamed sabotage, echoing allegations that the United States was behind nearly a week of blackouts in March that were allegedly aimed at forcing out Maduro. U.S. officials have scoffed at the suggestion.

Venezuelan officials suspended school and work Tuesday for most Venezuelans because of the power failure. The Caracas metro wasn't operating, though Energy Minister Freddy Brito said government workers were restoring power across the country.

Netblocks, a group monitoring internet activity, said network data showed most of Venezuela had been knocked offline with national connectivity at just 6% after the outages on Monday.

Venezuela was once a wealthy oil nation, but an estimated 4 million residents have emigrated, tired of shortages of electricity and water, as well as food and medicine.

While Venezuela's future is unclear for many, an opposition activist wearing a Venezuelan flag around her shoulders like a cape said one thing is certain: The blackout in Caracas this week won't be the last.

"What we went through last night will happen again," said Adriana Caluogno, a computer programmer.

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Associated Press journalist Sheyla Urdaneta contributed from Maracaibo, Venezuela.

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