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Venezuela Suffers Largest Blackout In Years After Being Hit With Sanctions


Many parts of Venezuela have been in the dark for the last day. The power outage is almost nationwide. It has crippled hospitals, transportation and communication systems, all this during an economic crisis and a leadership showdown that could become violent. NPR's Philip Reeves is in Venezuela's capital, Caracas, and joins us now. Hi, Phil.


SHAPIRO: How are people coping without electricity there?

REEVES: Well, as you probably can hear in the background, there are a lot of people around me right now because I'm in a five-star hotel, which is normally fairly empty, but it's filled up with people from Caracas, the minority who have money who've come here because they have no electricity in their houses, because the restaurants have all closed. So they've moved in here with their families, with their kids, and the place is absolutely packed. That's the elite with money. Of course, it's really hit people without money extremely hard. Long lines at gas stations have started to appear because the electric pumps that pump the gas are out of power, and some people are without water.

I went along to a very big hospital here in Caracas, the University Hospital, which has had terrible problems with power cuts before, leading patients to die, and spoke to some of the staff there. They're very worried about it. They say that patients are suffering. They did have a generator that worked in the emergency area, but it meant that all the corridors of the hospital are in darkness at night. And so then that's very worrying because they're worried about getting robbed themselves by people who get inside the hospital and rob staff in the hospital - anything that they might have - including medicine, if they have any.

SHAPIRO: This latest adversity is on top of the food shortages, the medicine shortages, the hyperinflation. What is responsible for these blackouts that are becoming more common?

REEVES: Well, I ran into a guy who was protesting in the street, and he said he used to work in the electricity sector for 15 years. He had a big sign which said, no electricity, no medicine, no cash, no Internet, no transport. So he was protesting this. I put what the government has said about this and what the state electricity company here has said about this to him. I asked him whether it was true that this was sabotage as the state electricity company is saying or whether this was part of the economic war by the U.S. against Venezuela as the government's saying. And he totally dismissed that, saying, look; the infrastructure in the utility sector, especially electricity, is in terrible repair.

So many people have left Venezuela to get jobs elsewhere. There's great problems getting parts to repair the system, and it is simply falling apart. And people here say, yes, they're used to power cuts. They've had many of those, including here in Caracas - less so here. But they said they'd never had one of this duration and of this scale. It's really across almost all of the country.

SHAPIRO: Just briefly, Phil, how is this all going to play into competing demonstrations that are planned for tomorrow by the government and the opposition?

REEVES: Well, it clearly raises the temperature. Juan Guaido, the opposition leader who is recognized by dozens of countries as the legitimate president of Venezuela, has used this already as an issue with which to take to task Nicolas Maduro, the president of the country right now. So we will have a lot more of that tomorrow when both sides, Maduro and Guaido, will have their supporters out in the streets in considerable numbers.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Philip Reeves in Caracas, Venezuela. Thanks, Phil.

REEVES: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves
Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.