As Venezuela’s Lights Flicker, Guaido Seeks an Opening

Andrew Rosati and Alex Vasquez
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As Venezuela’s Lights Flicker, Guaido Seeks an Opening

(Bloomberg) -- With Venezuelans suffering from several days of electricity outages, National Assembly leader Juan Guaido said he’ll call a “national emergency” on Monday to rally public anger in his bid to oust President Nicolas Maduro.

Though he’s backed by the U.S. and 50 other governments, Guaido’s leverage is limited because he doesn’t control the government or the all-important military. His plan is to increase pressure on Maduro, who he says stole last year’s election and therefore has no legitimacy.

Guaido stressed he wasn’t calling for international intervention, even though some supporters are pressing him to do so. Instead, the 35-year-old leader made another plea to the military to ditch Maduro, a change that would almost certainly bring him down.

“Will you keep hiding the dictator?” he asked in a news conference in Caracas, addressing the military high command. To all soldiers, he said: “We do not want more accomplices. The time is now.”

Fallen Nation

Once South America’s richest nation, Venezuela has suffered deeply under Maduro. The nation’s problems encompass poverty, violence, hyperinflation, food shortages and now the worst lack of electricity in memory, knocked out on Thursday. In a possible clue to Maduro’s tenuous hold on power, he hasn’t arrested Guaido despite threats to do so.

At Caracas University Hospital in the capital, Maria Valor sat watch Sunday over the bed of her 3-year-old daughter, struck in the head by a fallen branch. Her face was swollen and purple rings circled her eyes. “She won’t respond," Valor said. “She won’t sit up and no one is able to tell me what is wrong without an X-ray.”

But there was no electricity, and one of two of the hospital’s generators had broken.

There has been no independent explanation for the power outages, though many Venezuelans suspect it’s simply part of the country’s long deterioration. Maduro’s government has alleged cyber-sabotage and sought to blame the U.S. Defense Minister Vladmir Padrino Lopez said on state television Sunday that the government has "achieved some level of stabilization" in the power shortages.

“There is still a lot to do because the attack has been very precise,” he said.

Venezuela’s dire moment is playing out in ways large and small. Some 80 percent of the nation was unable to get online Sunday, according to NetBlocks, an organization that monitors cybersecurity and freedom on the internet. Barricades were erected on some of the capital’s streets overnight, along with burning refuse on the streets, after both Guaido and Maduro rounded up supporters for rallies on Saturday.

Hospital Deaths

Julio Castro, the head of Doctors for Health, a network of medical providers that surveys Venezuela’s hospitals, said that 17 people with long-term diseases had died since the blackouts started on Thursday. They couldn’t get the treatment they needed, he said.

Yet the nation seems to adjust to each new crisis. Though many regular businesses were closed, the bars and restaurants of the wealthier east rollicked on Saturday night as if the darkness signaled a holiday.

While the wealthy were able to maintain some semblance of normality, other Venezuelans were left to their own devices to face life without electricity. Motorists have taken to driving around aimlessly to charge phones and attempt to call loved ones in the countryside or abroad. Highways and avenues were lined with parked cars where the signal was particularly strong. There have been isolated incidents looting in Caracas over Saturday and Sunday, but it has not spread across the city.

On Sunday morning the city’s downtown came back to life after a night marked by residents burning trash and hurling bottles at police, who quashed the demonstrations with tear gas. Roads in the La Candelaria neighborhood were singed from the skirmishes, but kiosks and bakeries were open and old men played dominoes in plazas and churches held Mass.

Maria Martelo, 27, an engineer, returned to her powerless home from a cathedral where she had charged her phone. “What else can you do?” she said. “What we’re living is terrible and absurd.”

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--With assistance from Patricia Laya and Fabiola Zerpa.

To contact the reporters on this story: Andrew Rosati in Caracas at arosati3@bloomberg.net;Alex Vasquez in Caracas Office at avasquez45@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: James Ludden at jludden@bloomberg.net, Tony Czuczka, Ian Fisher

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