Guaido calls for march as Venezuela blackout drags on

CARACAS (AFP) – Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido on Saturday called for a nationwide march on Caracas to crank up the pressure on embattled President Nicolas Maduro, as the country endured its third night largely without power.

The massive blackout crippling the oil-rich but economically troubled South American nation has fuelled the political standoff between Guaido, who is recognised as Venezuela’s leader by more than 50 countries, and Maduro, who is clinging to power.

No national data was available about the impact of the power outage, but an NGO said at least 15 patients with advanced kidney disease died after they stopped receiving dialysis treatments in darkened hospitals.

As night fell on Saturday, the power across much of the country – which first went off on Thursday – was still not on. Businesses remained shut, hospitals struggled to operate, and public transport barely functioned.

The 35-year-old Guaido, the head of Venezuela’s National Assembly, earlier told thousands of supporters that he would soon embark on a nationwide listening tour before leading a march on the capital.

Leader of Venezuela’s National Assembly Juan Guaido addresses supporters during a rally against the government in Caracas, Venezuela. – AP

“Once we’ve finished the tour, the organisation in every state, we’ll announce the date when all together, we’ll come to Caracas,” Guaido said, a megaphone in his hand as he stood on the roof of a pickup truck.

Security forces had prevented the opposition from setting up a stage at their original protest site, arresting three people.

“Miraflores, Miraflores!” chanted Guaido’s supporters in response – a reference to the presidential palace currently occupied by Maduro.

Guaido, who proclaimed himself president of the country of 30 million people in January and says Maduro’s May re-election was illegitimate – wants to set up new polls.

He threatened to authorize an outside military intervention “when the time comes,” pointing to the constitution, which authorizes “the use of a Venezuelan military mission abroad, or foreigners inside the country.”

“All the options are on the table,” he said, borrowing a phrase from United States (US) President Donald Trump.

Maduro also rallied his supporters. Wearing red, they protested against “imperialism” at a march that marked four years since the US branded Venezuela a “threat” to its security and imposed sanctions.

“Today, more than ever, we’re anti-imperialists. We will never surrender!” Maduro wrote on Twitter.

He said almost 70 per cent of power had been restored by mid-day, when a “cyberattack” was reported at a major power plant.

“That disturbed and undid everything we had achieved,” he said.

Both the pro-Guaido and the pro-Maduro rallies ended without major incident.

It is one of the worst and longest blackouts in recent memory in Venezuela, which is already suffering from shortages of food and medicine due to the overarching economic crisis.

Problems have been exacerbated by hyperinflation that the International Monetary Fund says will reach 10 million per cent this year.