BFF-12 Caracas and other major Venezuelan cities hit by new blackout

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Caracas and other major Venezuelan cities hit by new blackout

CARACAS, March 30, 2019 (BSS/AFP) – A new blackout hit Caracas and other
major Venezuelan cities on Friday, the third major electricity outage in the
crisis-plagued country this month.

The blackout began around 7:10 pm (2310 GMT), leaving the capital as well
as cities including Maracaibo, Valencia, Maracay and San Cristobal without
electricity, according to users on social media networks.

It is the third time since March 7 that a major power outage has hit
Venezuela — worsening the already-dire economic and living conditions in a
country that is witnessing a major political showdown between President
Nicolas Maduro and opposition chief Juan Guaido.

Maduro has blamed the previous outages on sabotage, but experts have said
that infrastructure crumbling from years of neglect is a more likely culprit
than outside interference.

Earlier on Friday, the Red Cross said it would begin impartially
distributing aid in Venezuela in two weeks, brushing aside the threat of
political interference amid the Maduro-Guaido power struggle.

Malnutrition and disease are on the rise as living conditions plummet in
the oil-producing Latin American nation, which is spiraling ever deeper into
economic chaos during a protracted political crisis.

“We estimate that in a period of approximately 15 days we will be ready to
offer help,” said Francesco Rocca, head of the International Federation of
the Red Cross and Red Crescent.

The United States — which considers Guaido interim president along with
some 50 other countries — welcomed the announcement as a “real opportunity.”

Rocca told reporters in Caracas the organization would begin distributing
aid mid-April, including tons of mostly US food and medical supplies that
Maduro has to date refused to allow into the country — leaving it stockpiled
for weeks on the borders with Colombia and Brazil.

The Red Cross — aiming to reach 650,000 people initially — would act
according to its principles of “impartiality, neutrality and independence,”
he said, “without accepting interference from anyone.”

– ‘Victory over sanctions’ –

Meanwhile, in a boost to Maduro, a Chinese plane loaded with 65 tons of
medical aid landed in Caracas on Friday. His government celebrated it as a
victory over US sanctions, which the socialist leader blames for the economic
crisis.

Though unpopular, Maduro has the upper hand at home, thanks to loyalty from
his military chiefs and, since last weekend, the presence of 100 Russian
troops.

The Russian deployment to Venezuela has drawn fire from Washington, but
Caracas’ defense minister said Friday that “no one should be alarmed” by
their presence.

“We are overcoming the purported siege, the blockade, which has been
undertaken by President Trump and the diabolical puppet from here in
Venezuela,” said vice-president Tareck El Aissami, referring to Guaido.

El Aissami, on the tarmac to meet the Chinese plane, said the medical
supplies were the “first cargo of several that start from this moment.”

It includes analgesics, surgical equipment and medicine for diseases such
as diabetes.

China’s ambassador Li Baorong said the delivery was part of previous
“cooperation agreements” with Venezuela.

Speaking at a news conference in Caracas, Rocca said agreements had been
put in place to guarantee aid distribution, but declined to give details.

In Washington, Elliott Abrams, the envoy heading the US effort to oust
Maduro, praised the Red Cross initiative and credited appeals by Guaido.

“This looks like a real opportunity, and we think that it is a response to
the efforts that interim President Guaido has been making,” Abrams told
reporters in Washington.

“So it’s very welcome, we hope it works, and — assuming that it does,
which we do — the United States would be happy to put some of our aid into
this method of reaching the Venezuelan people,” he said.

Maduro ordered the border closed to keep out the aid, thwarting a high-
profile February 23 operation orchestrated by Guaido to bring badly needed
food and medical supplies into the country where the UN says seven million
people are in dire need.

At least seven people were killed and dozens injured in subsequent rioting
at the border.

– Seven million in dire need –

The socialist leader said aid would be a precursor to a US military
incursion.

“That was an issue that was very politicized,” said Rocca. “If that help
complies with our rules and our protocols, of course we are willing to
distribute it.”

About 24 percent of Venezuela’s population — seven million people — are
in dire need of humanitarian aid, according to an internal UN report that
showed malnutrition and disease were on the rise as living conditions
plummet.

Abrams nonetheless said the Red Cross assistance was no substitute for
toppling Maduro.

“The kind of aid that is needed for a broad recovery of the Venezuelan
economy really cannot be put in place until the regime is replaced by
democratic government,” Abrams said.

BSS/AFP/GMR/0915 hrs