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Venezuela’s Deadly Blackout Highlights the Need for a Negotiated Resolution of the Crisis

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Last weekend Venezuela experienced the worst blackout in its history. Monday, March 11, marked the fourth day of the blackout, which affected nearly all of Venezuela. Power was intermittently restored on Sunday and Monday in parts of Caracas and elsewhere. But areas of western Venezuela had received no electricity since Thursday, with The New York Times on Monday publishing an article titled “No End in Sight to Venezuela’s Blackout, Experts Warn.”

This unprecedented situation provides a terrifying image of Venezuela’s present and future: a nation plunged in darkness, crumbling infrastructure, anxious and desperate citizens, a political class that lacks the resources and will to resolve the situation, and increasingly open opposition calls for foreign or domestic military intervention to “solve” the crisis. In addition to the everyday annoyances, anxieties, and worse suffered by millions of people, the most alarming aspect of the blackout is the lack of power in hospitals and food-storage areas. To be blunt: People are dying, and more will die the longer the blackout continues. The same can be said, on a larger scale, about Venezuela’s current crisis. This reality underlines the urgency of understanding the roots of the crisis and figuring out a way to resolve it.

To many, the cause of the blackout, and of Venezuela’s broader crisis, is obvious. Hours into the blackout, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted, “The power outage and the devastation hurting ordinary Venezuelans is not because of the USA. It’s not because of Colombia. It’s not Ecuador or Brazil, Europe or anywhere else. Power shortages and starvation are the result of the Maduro regime’s incompetence.” He followed with two more tweets: “Maduro’s policies bring nothing but darkness” and “No food. No medicine. Now, no power. Next, no Maduro.”

Maduro, in turn, blamed the United States for the blackout, tweeting (in Spanish), “The electric war announced and directed by US imperialism against our people will be defeated. Nothing and no one can defeat the people of Bolívar and Chávez. All-out unity of patriots!”

These tweets sum up the competing narratives about the causes of the blackout, and of Venezuela’s broader crisis. To most critics inside and outside the country, both are due to Maduro’s incompetence and venality. The obvious solution is thus to get rid of Maduro. To defenders of Maduro, the primary—and for some the sole—cause of the blackout and broader crisis is the “economic-cum-electric war” waged against Venezuela by the United States and the domestic opposition, now led by Juan Guaidó, who declared himself Venezuela’s interim president on January 23. The solution, in this view, is to defeat imperialism.

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