CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelans were skeptical Wednesday of President Nicolas Maduro’s claims that saboteurs were responsible for a blackout that left about 70 percent of the country without electricity and caused chaos in Caracas, interrupting subway service and snarling traffic.
For many, no explanation was necessary: Government neglect and incompetence are to blame for blackouts that have plagued the country for years while rarely affecting the capital.
“I don’t believe this tale about sabotage. We all know who is to blame,” said Adriana Montoya, a 45-year-old housewife who said she was stuck for hours in traffic that snarled as traffic lights went dark and subway service halted in Caracas, which lost power for five hours Tuesday.
Others complained of being stuck in trains in darkened subway tunnels before being evacuated to safety.
Demands for the resignation of Electrical Energy Minister Jesse Chacon flooded Twitter. He had vowed after being named to the post in April to revamp the power grid.
Chacon said the blackout was caused by problems with transmission lines in the Bajo Caroni region, where 60 percent of Venezuela’s power is generated by hydroelectric plants. Fourteen of 23 states lost power for much of Tuesday.
Maduro claimed sabotage by “the extreme right-wing” was the cause, but did not present any evidence.
“We are facing a low-level conflict that seeks a high impact on society and politics,” he said.
Even before Maduro’s announcement, top opposition politician Leopoldo Lopez poked fun at officials who have claimed in the past that thunderstorms or iguanas climbing on power lines caused blackouts.
“We already know what you are going to say: That it was an iguana, a lightning bolt or sabotage,” he tweeted.
During the campaign leading up to an April presidential election that Maduro won by a razor-thin margin, Venezuela was hit by numerous power outages.
That prompted Maduro to accuse his political adversaries of resorting to sabotage as a means of hurting his chances for a victory.
Chacon said authorities were investigating Tuesday’s failure.
But Venezuelans held out little hope of getting the real story.
After a severe drought in 2010 that affected hydropower generation, the government stopped publishing information about its electrical generation and distribution, said Jose Aguilar, an industry consultant who had worked with the government until then.
Outages continued and the late President Hugo Chavez blamed them on sabotage and named a brother, Argenis, electrical energy minister.
Like Maduro, Chavez presented no evidence of sabotage.
Blackouts are frequent in many of Venezuela’s states, but few outages have affected Caracas in recent years.
Victor Poleo, an expert who closely tracks Venezuela’s grid problems, said blackouts are continuing because state-run power companies have not modernized power lines as a means of boosting transmission capacity.
“They have attempted to send more electricity through the lines that don’t have any more capacity,” Poleo told Union Radio, a local broadcaster.