CARACAS (Reuters) – Furious Venezuelans lined up to buy water and fuel on Sunday as the country endured a fourth day of a nationwide blackout that has left already-scarce food rotting in shops, homes suffering for lack of water and cell phones without reception.
Authorities have managed to provide only patchy access to power since the outage began on Thursday in what President Nicolas Maduro called an act of US-backed sabotage, but critics insist it is the result of incompetence and corruption.
The government on Sunday suspended school and business activities without providing any information on a likely time frame for resolving the situation, leaving many fretting that it could extend indefinitely.
The country’s worst-ever power outage comes as Mr Maduro faces a hyperinflationary economic collapse and an unprecedented political crisis. Opposition leader Juan Guaido in January invoked the constitution to assume the presidency after declaring Maduro’s 2018 re-election a fraud.
Angry residents of the Caracas neighbourhood of Chacao on Sunday set up barricades along a main avenue and on side streets to protest the continued blackout.
“The food we had in our refrigerators has spoiled, businesses are closed, there’s no communication, not even by cell phone,” Ana Cerrato, 49, a merchant, standing in front of a pile of razor wire and debris.
Lines at fuel stations extended for blocks as drivers queued for gasoline and busses waited to fill up with diesel. Families stood under the sun to buy potable water, which is unavailable for most residents whose homes do not have power.
State oil company PDVSA said on Sunday that fuel supplies were guaranteed. But only around 100 of the country’s 1,800 service stations were operating due to the blackout.
Merchants unable to keep refrigerators working began giving away cheese, vegetables and meat to clients.Other shops had supplies stolen.
Mr Guaido slammed Mr Maduro’s government for failing to explain what was going on.
“The regime at this hour, days after a blackout without precedent, has no diagnosis,” he said on Sunday.
Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez said on state television that the government was taking care of the situation, without offering technical details on what was causing the continued outage.