Published in pagina12.org.ar on July 24. Translation by Michael Otto.
The people of Caracas woke up on July 23 with the uncertainty that power outages bring. The electrical system in most areas of the capital had already been restored, but the morning was marked by the loss of power for a few hours in different sectors. The government declared it a no-work day. The metro [transportation] service was disabled due to electrical instability, and the people were busy, as always after outages, buying food and refueling with gasoline.
At 2 p.m., Minister of Electric Power Freddy Brito provided information about the restoration of “100 percent power in most of the states of the country.” The power outage had occurred at 4:45 p.m. on the previous day, July 22, so it continued for less than 24 hours in Caracas and elsewhere in the country. The reality in the capital contrasts with that in many states. In Caracas, there have been [four] outages since the beginning of the year, while in such states as Zulia, Lara and Táchira power outages occur daily.
Sabotage hits Guayana, main power provider
Minister of Communication Jorge Rodríguez charged that the outage occurred as an attack: “The first indications received from the investigation point to the existence of an electromagnetic attack that sought to affect the hydroelectric generation system of Guayana, the main provider of this service in the country.”
According to Rodriguez, this was a new attack on the national electrical system, [unlike] those which had been condemned by the national government on previous occasions—particularly the biggest power cut which began on March 7 and lasted for several days. He announced that the recovery would be rapid because “protection and security protocols” had been implemented after the apparent attacks.
Right-wing opposition forces blamed the [Venezuelan] government for what happened. The same message came from the United States, where Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, a leader in the strategy against the Nicolás Maduro government, affirmed that the cause of the outage was “the regime.”
There was tension in the streets due to the breadth of the outage and particularly its timing. It hit as people were heading home and as night gradually arrived. This meant it directly impacted transportation and caused uncertainties for workers and their families. However, along with this, in the corners of working-class neighborhoods, there was calmness and resignation, as conversations went on.
Caracas displayed the usual attitude in the face of difficulty. The government activated emergency transport services, and cars lined up at points in the city where residents knew there was a telephone signal when power cuts occur.
In that context, [opposition leader] Juan Guaidó completed six months since his self-proclamation [to replace President Maduro] on July 23. He called for a public session of the National Assembly at one of the usual concentration points of anti-Chavismo in Caracas. Attendance at the activity was small; it was representative of the traditional sectors of the Venezuelan right wing. Popular groups were absent.
At that event Guaidó announced the [National Assembly’s] approval for Venezuela to join the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, the pact for inter-American mutual defense [the so-called “Rio Treaty” of 1947] from which Venezuela withdrew in 2012 along with Bolivia, Nicaragua and Ecuador. IATRA opens the door to the request for the formation of a coalition of inter-American forces to carry out military intervention. (Telesurtv.net, July 24)
There are elements in the government’s opposition who say an action by foreign military forces is the only way [for them] to get out of the crisis. They have been demanding the National Assembly’s approval for several weeks. Guaidó has gone back and forth in his arguments regarding the implications of IATRA, posing it as a possible tool for military intervention, yet claiming it’s a tool used only for diplomatic and economic purposes.
This approval for IATRA by a public body [the National Assembly] that’s embedded within the apparatus which is attempting to carry out a coup d’état took place within the context of ongoing negotiations. The government and the opposition forces have held four public meetings since May, two in Oslo, Norway, and two on the Caribbean island of Barbados. The Norwegian government has been mediating these talks and has repeatedly insisted on the need for discretion regarding what’s discussed.
U.S. aims clear: Oust Maduro
It is not yet known what the possible points of the agreement would be if an accord was reached. One of the key sticking points is whether or not Nicolás Maduro remains as president. U.S. Special Representative for Venezuela Elliot Abrams, stated in an interview on July 22, “The notion that Maduro might remain president to preside over free elections … is laughable.” (state.gov/on-the-record-briefing-2)
Abrams’ rhetoric asserts not only the need for President Maduro to stand down for a possible presidential election, but to step aside prior to an election.
Meanwhile, President Maduro called on the apparatus of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) to prepare for elections to form a new legislative body, something he has talked about for several months. No Chavista leader has contemplated presidential elections thus far. Diosdado Cabello, president of the National Constituent Assembly, asserted his disagreement with that possibility.
The following elements are developing simultaneously along with the Barbados talks: The government condemns the power cut as a new attack, the IATRA card, and the U.S. reconnaissance plane which was intercepted by two Sukhoi fighter planes after an unauthorized incursion into Venezuelan airspace on July 20. Also, the recent [July 20] meeting of the 120 governments of the Non-Aligned Movement recognized Maduro and opposed the U.S. blockade.
The negotiations don’t interfere with how the other variables serve to shape the correlation of forces for a possible accord.