By Deisy Buitrago
CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuelans staged scattered protests on Sunday over constant power outages and shortages of drinking water in the wake of two major blackouts this month.
The situation has fuelled frustration with the government of President Nicolas Maduro and frayed nerves as schools and much of the nation’s commerce have been interrupted by problems with public services for nearly three weeks.
Residents on Sunday afternoon spontaneously protested in around 10 neighbourhoods of Caracas as well as in parts of the provinces, according to witnesses and social media. Power went out on Sunday morning after flickering intermittently on Saturday.
Most demonstrators merely waved flags and chanted slogans, though some blockaded streets and burnt tires.
“We’re here because there’s no water, no power and (unchecked) crime,” said Jose De La Cruz, 45, a nurse, standing at a barricade in downtown Caracas. “I’m asking Maduro to go. Just look at how things are. We have to go into the streets on a Sunday to protest because so many things aren’t working.”
One Reuters witness heard gunshots being fired near where the barricades had been set up, and demonstrators reported that one woman had been injured by gunfire.The government has offered a variety of explanations for the blackouts, ranging from Washington-backed cyberattacks to opposition-linked snipers causing fires at the country’s main hydroelectric dam.
Critics insist it is the result of more than a decade of corruption and incompetent management of the power system, which late socialist leader Hugo Chavez nationalized in 2007.
Opposition leader Juan Guaido, who is recognised by most Western nations as Venezuela’s legitimate head of state, has called on residents to organise at the neighbourhood level to demand better services.
Guaido in January invoked the constitution to assume the interim presidency, arguing that Maduro’s 2018 re-election was fraudulent and that he usurped power when he was sworn in for a second term.
Maduro calls him a puppet of the United States, which he says is seeking to force him from office through a coup.
Washington has levied crippling sanctions against Maduro’s government in an effort to push him from power. He has hung on in large part thanks to the continued loyalty of top military commanders.
(Reporting by Deisy Buitrago; writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)