Venezuelans continue to struggle under a blackout that has been one of the worst and longest in recent memory, in a country already suffering from serious shortages of food and medicine due to economic crisis.
Video provided by AFP
CARACAS, Venezuela – The United States announced late Monday that it is pulling the remaining staff from its embassy in Venezuela, citing the deteriorating situation in the South American nation.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the decision as Venezuela struggles to restore electricity following four days of blackouts around the country and a deepening political crisis.
The U.S. has led an international effort to oust socialist President Nicolas Maduro and replace him with opposition leader Juan Guaido, who vows to hold a new presidential election. Guaido is backed by some 50 countries, while Maduro maintains support from countries such as China, Russia and Cuba.
Maduro had ordered all U.S. diplomats to leave Venezuela in late January because of its support from Guaido, but he retreated and allowed them to stay. The U.S. still withdrew dependents of embassy personnel as well as some of the staff. Pompeo said the remaining diplomats would be out of Venezuela by the end of the week.
The move came after another day of chaos as power outages that began Thursday evening continued to cause problems for Venezuelans, leaving them with little power, water and communications.
People converged on a polluted river to fill water bottles in Caracas, and scattered protests erupted in several cities
A 3-year-old girl with a brain tumor languished in a Caracas hospital, awaiting treatment after doctors started surgery but then suspended the operation when nationwide power outages first hit on Thursday, said the girl’s fearful mother, who only gave her first name, Yalimar.
“The doctors told me that there are no miracles,” said Yalimar, who hopes her daughter can be transferred Tuesday to one of the few hospitals in Venezuela that would be able to finish the complex procedure.
The girl’s story highlighted an unfolding horror in Venezuela, where years of hardship got abruptly worse after the power grid collapsed. On Monday, schools and businesses were closed, long lines of cars waited at the few gasoline stations with electricity and hospitals cared for many patients without power. Generators have alleviated conditions for some of the critically ill.
Maduro said on national television Monday night that progress had been made in restoring power in Venezuela. He also said two people who were allegedly trying to sabotage power facilities were captured and were providing information to authorities, though he gave no details.
Guaido, who heads the opposition-controlled congress, and the United States say Maduro’s claims that the U.S. sabotaged the power grid with a “cyberattack” are an attempt to divert attention from the government’s own failings.
The blackouts also have hit the oil industry. The country hasn’t shipped $358 million in oil since the power failures started, and “the whole system is grinding to a halt,” said Russ Dallen, a Miami-based partner at the brokerage firm Caracas Capital Markets.
Two large tankers are sitting empty at the Jose offshore oil-loading dock, and at least 19 other ships are waiting their turns there, Dallen said.
Engineers have restored power in some parts of Venezuela, but it often goes out again. There have been a few protests in Caracas and reports of similar anti-government anger elsewhere. Guaido tweeted about reports of looting in some cities, but details were difficult to confirm.
Security forces in the city of Maracaibo dispersed “criminals” trying to take advantage of the power cuts, Mayor Willy Casanova told local media. However, numerous videos posted on social media that purported to be from Maracaibo showed crowds roaming the streets and people running from looted, damaged buildings with no police in sight.
In Caracas, some people reported more sightings of “colectivos,” a term for armed groups allegedly operating on behalf of the state to intimidate opponents.
Spain’s airline pilots union asked for Spanish airline Air Europa to stop flying to Venezuela after one of its crews was attacked at gunpoint in Caracas. The Sepla union said two pilots and eight more crew members of a flight from Madrid were assaulted on Saturday while going from the airport to their hotel in the Venezuelan capital. None of the crew members was injured.
Air Europa responded by ordering the crews of flights to Venezuela to not spend the night in the country, according to the union.
The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump imposed sanctions on a Moscow-based bank jointly owned by Russian and Venezuelan state-owned companies, alleging it tried to circumvent U.S. sanctions on the South American country. The U.S. said it is targeting Evrofinance Mosnarbank for supporting Petroleos de Venezuela SA, the state oil company previously targeted by sanctions in January.
Evrofinance said it was carrying out its activities normally despite the announcement and pledged to “meet its obligations to the clients and partners in full.”
The U.S. and the other governments that recognize Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president say Maduro wasn’t legitimately re-elected last year because opposition candidates weren’t permitted to run. Maduro says he is the target of a U.S. coup plot.
Associated Press writer Christopher Torchia contributed to this report.
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