Maduro’s foes balk at UN-backed deal to rebuild power grid

MIAMI (AP) – A proposal to rebuild Venezuela’s collapsed power grid with the help of the United Nations (UN) is proving a political hot potato for Nicolás Maduro’s opponents.

On Tuesday, the opposition-controlled National Assembly at the last minute scratched a schedule debate on a USD350 million credit from a regional development bank to address an electricity emergency that has left much of western Venezuela in the dark from blackouts for months.

The project’s promoters accuse opposition hardliners of playing politics with Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis, all the while ignoring the plight of millions of Venezuelans who urgently demand solutions to everyday travails as the fight to remove Maduro drags on.

“We can’t condemn millions of Venezuelans to life without power while we wait for Maduro to give up power,” said Oscar Rondero, an opposition lawmaker from Nueva Esparta state, one of the most impacted by the blackouts.

The proposed loan agreement with the Development Bank of Latin America, or CAF, enjoys the backing of Maduro but still requires the National Assembly’s approval.

The funding would be used to reconnect 1,206 megawatts of power – about half of its current output from diesel and gas-powered facilities – in four hard-hit areas as well as backup generators for hospitals nationwide.

The proposal puts the opposition, which considers the Maduro administration corrupt and illegitimate, in a difficult spot, said David Smile, a Venezuela expert at Tulane University. It also lays bare divisions that have grown deeper, and more embittered, as the United States (US)-backed campaign to oust Maduro loses its momentum, with many of his opponents exiled for fear of arrest.

“Supporting it would require tacit recognition of the Maduro government,” said Smilde, who is also a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America. “But opposing it would mean denying Venezuelans a significant opportunity to improve the terrible conditions they are living in.”

To address those concerns, the UN’s Development Agency would be responsible for administering the funding in conjunction with an independent board comprised of representatives of Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaidó.