A woman cooks dinner at her house with the help of a candle during blackouts, which affects the water pumps on March 12, 2019 in Caracas, Venezuela. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ EVA MARIE UZCATEGUI
A woman cooks dinner at her house with the help of a candle during blackouts, which affects the water pumps on March 12, 2019 in Caracas, Venezuela. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ EVA MARIE UZCATEGUI

Caracas — President Nicolas Maduro’s government scrambled on Wednesday to return power to western Venezuela following heavy looting in the second-largest city, while China offered to help the South American nation end its worst blackout on record.

Power had returned to many parts of Venezuela after a nationwide outage last week that Maduro’s governing Socialist Party blamed on an act of US sabotage, though it had not fully reached the western state of Zulia.

Looters smashed shop windows and made off with merchandise from more than 300 businesses across the state, located along the border with Colombia, the Zulia chapter of business organisation Fedecamaras said.

“This has truly been a tragedy,” opposition legislator Nora Bracho, who represents Zulia in the National Assembly, said on Wednesday.

“Not having power is already a burden with the temperature at 104 degrees [40°C]. In addition, there’s no potable water and no food,” Bracho said.

The country’s top food company, Empresas Polar, said four facilities in Maracaibo, the biggest city after the capital Caracas, were ransacked this week, with looters making off with water, soft drinks and pasta.

The information ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

China said on Wednesday it is willing to provide help and technical support to restore electricity, and backed Maduro’s assertion that the problem is the result of sabotage.

Maduro’s critics have scoffed at the sabotage explanation, insisting that rampant corruption and a decade of incompetent management by state authorities are to blame.

A technical problem with transmission lines linking the Guri hydroelectric plant in southeastern Venezuela to the national power grid likely caused the blackout, experts said.

With no electricity, hospitals struggled to keep equipment running, food rotted in the tropical heat and exports from the country’s main oil terminal were shut down. On Monday, Venezuelans unable to obtain potable water for home use queued to fill containers from a sewage pipe.

The US is preparing to withdraw its remaining diplomats in Venezuela, an effort that will not involve the US military.

Venezuelan authorities released reporter Luis Carlos Diaz on Tuesday. He had been seized by intelligence agents the day before amid state-media accusations he had been involved in the blackout.

A judge ordered him not to leave the country and prohibited him from making public statements — a move rights groups slammed as another example of a growing crackdown on media and free press.

“The prohibition on speaking to the media constitutes a new form of censorship that seeks to prevent the public from knowing what happened during the arbitrary detention of Luis Carlos Diaz,” rights group Public Space wrote on Twitter.

Reuters