Venezuela entered its fourth day of blackouts in an "electricity crisis" that plunged most of the country's 23 states, including the state home to the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, into complete darkness.
Reuters reports that international non-governmental organizations estimate that at least 17 people have died, nine of whom were waiting for emergency medical attention. Reuters was not able to independently verify the numbers, but they are being tabulated by the non-partisan NGO, Doctors For Health, which has been treating patients in Venezuela.
"The outage is by far the longest in decades. In 2013, Caracas and 17 of the country’s 23 states were hit by a six-hour blackout, while in 2018 eight states suffered a 10-hour power outage, government officials said at the time," Reuters reported Sunday. Six of the country's 23 states have no power at all.
Bloomberg reports that the outage began when a transformer exploded at the Guri Dam, one of the nation's most important hydroelectric plants. The government says the explosion was "sabotage," but it's not immediately clear what caused the system to collapse. One government official blamed the problem on eroding infrastructure.
“Practically nothing is working anymore, not even the backup thermal-power plants,” he said. “We don’t have the replacement parts, the trained personnel.”
A shocking video of sick children sweltering in a hospital without power made its rounds on social media Saturday. In the video, nurses fan tiny patients while they wait for electricity to return.
Hospitals can't even use emergency generators because of Venezuela's ongoing fuel shortage. Without gasoline to power the generators, the country is reliant on the grid system to deliver power, even in emergency situations.
The electricity shortage is also in addition to food and medicine shortages, and other fuel shortages, all consequences of Venezuela's "hyperinflationary collapse." Increased U.S. oil sanctions, designed to force Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro out of power, aren't helping.
"Food rotted in refrigerators, people walked for miles to work with the Caracas subway down, and relatives abroad anxiously waited for updates from family members with telephone and internet signals intermittent," according to Reuters.
The situation is only made worse by Venezuela's political instability. As people suffered Saturday, Nicolas Maduro held a rally in Caracas, where he blamed the electricity problems on "electromagnetic and cyber attacks directed from abroad by the empire," (by which he means the United States).
"The right wing, together with the empire, has stabbed the electricity system, and we are trying to cure it soon," Maduro added, trying to calm the crowd.
"I will tell this for the first time," Maduro continued. "We are in the process of investigation and correcting it all because there are many infiltrators attacking the electrical company from within."
Venezuelan opposition leader, Juan Guaido, is also delivering speeches, having returned from a short trip around South America to promote his claim to Venezuelan leadership. Guiado, head of the country's legislative body and himself a socialist (though not as far left as Maduro) has been standing in opposition to Maduro since late last year, when he declared Maduro's election illegitimate and "rigged."