Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido has called for mass demonstrations throughout the country on Tuesday to protest against a blackout that has left millions without power since late last week.
“Tomorrow at 3:00 in the afternoon, all of Venezuela will be on the streets,” self-proclaimed interim President Guaido said in a speech to the National Assembly on Monday.
Describing the situation in Venezuela as a “catastrophe”, he said the blackout, which began last Thursday, has claimed “dozens” of lives since it began. He has blamed the power outage the “corruption and ineptitude of the regime” of President Nicolas Maduro.
But Maduro accuses the United States and the opposition of mounting a cyberattack on the electrical system.
“The cruel attack that the US empire carried out against the electrical system has been detected, contained and progressively reversed, thanks to the efforts of experts and Venezuelan hackers who maintain an intense work to restore peace to the people,” Maduro wrote on Twitter.
El cruel ataque que el imperio de los EE.UU. ha llevado a cabo contra el sistema eléctrico ha sido detectado, contenido y progresivamente revertido, gracias al esfuerzo de expertos y hackers venezolanos que mantienen un intenso trabajo para devolverle la tranquilidad al pueblo. pic.twitter.com/5LwS36uKUh
— Nicolás Maduro (@NicolasMaduro) March 12, 2019
Tarek William Saab, Venezuela’s chief prosecutor, has said he launched an investigation into Guaido over suspicions he was involved in an attack on the grid.
Power returned to many parts of the country on Tuesday, including some areas that had not had electricity since last Thursday, according to witnesses and social media. The government also suspended schools and business activities for two more days as the power remained out in parts of the capital Caracas and the western region near the border with Colombia.
Venezuela‘s opposition-controlled Congress declared a symbolic “state of alarm”, on Monday while Guaido called for “international cooperation” to overcome the crisis, and ordered the 10 diplomatic representatives he has appointed abroad to coordinate that support.
Cumpliendo con mis atribuciones constitucionales como Presidente (E), he enviado a la @AsambleaVE la solicitud para que se decrete estado de alarma en todo el territorio nacional debido a la tragedia que vive el país a causa del apagón nacional sostenido. #ANSesiónDeEmergencia pic.twitter.com/et5WjL8uy0
— Juan Guaidó (@jguaido) March 11, 2019
US diplomats ordered out
Meanwhile on Tuesday, the Venezuelan government ordered US diplomats to leave the country within 72 hours, after talks broke down over maintaining diplomatic “interest sections” in the two countries.
“The presence on Venezuelan soil of these officials represents a risk for the peace, unity and stability of the country,” the government said in a statement.
Maduro, elected in 2013 following the death of his political mentor Hugo Chavez, officially broke diplomatic relations with the US on January 23 when it recognised Guaido. Washington evacuated most of its diplomatic staff two days later.
Since then, the country has been locked in a deep political crisis that comes against the backdrop of a years-long economic crisis that has resulted in hyperinflation, high levels of unemployment and food and medicine shortages.
The opposition has accused Maduro of going after his opponents, and amid signs of a crackdown on the media, the National Press Workers’ Union said that prominent radio journalist Luis Carlos Diaz was arrested on Monday by intelligence agents at his home in Caracas.
#URGENTE | Comision del Sebin que se presentó en la casa de Luis Carlos Diaz nos confirmó que está detenido en este cuerpo de seguridad. Al llegar a la residencia del colega periodistas @mruizsilvera @LilaVanorio @FedericoBlackB y @LuzMelyReyes fueron apuntados con armas #12Mar
— SNTP (@sntpvenezuela) March 12, 2019
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) demanded Venezuelan authorities release Diaz.
“Without electricity, much of the Venezuelan public is already deprived of access to information from TV, radio and the internet in the midst of an emergency,” said Natalie Southwick, CPJ’s Central and South America Program Coordinator.
“Harassing and jailing journalists will only exacerbate the crisis,” she said in a statement.
The Information Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Last week, an American journalist and Venezuelan fixer were also detained and interrogated before being released. The American journalist was deported.