Venezuelans woke up to a fourth day of an unprecedented nationwide blackout on Sunday, leaving residents concerned about the impacts of the lack of electricity on the South American country's health, communications and transport systems.
Socialist President Nicolas Maduro - who is facing a challenge to his rule by the leader of the opposition-led congress, Juan Guaido - has blamed the blackout on an act of sabotage by the United States at the Guri hydroelectric dam, but experts say it is the outcome of years of under-investment.
The national electrical system has been subject to multiple cyberattacks, Maduro wrote on Twitter on Sunday. However, we are making huge efforts to restore stable and definitive supply in the coming hours.
Guaido invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency in January, arguing that Maduro's 2018 re-election was fraudulent. He has been recognized as Venezuela's legitimate leader by the United States and most Western countries.
Despite pressure from frequent opposition marches and US sanctions on the country's vital oil sector, Maduro is not open to negotiations on ending the political impasse and seems intent on trying to stay put, said Elliott Abrams, the
Trump administration's envoy for Venezuela.
The blackout, which began on Thursday afternoon, increased frustration among Venezuelans already suffering widespread food and medicine shortages, as the once-prosperous OPEC nation's economy suffers a hyper-inflationary collapse.
Food rotted in refrigerators, people walked for miles to work with the Caracas subway down, and relatives abroad anxiously waited for updates from family members with telephone and internet signals intermittent.
Lines formed outside the few Caracas gas stations with open pumps, while many motorists stopped along the sides of highways to use their mobile phones in the few areas of the city with signal.
Some bakeries, supermarkets and restaurants were open and running on backup generators, according to Reuters witnesses. Many were asking customers to pay in US dollar bills, since debit card payment systems were not working reliably and local bolivar notes have been scarce for years.
Customers are buying drinks, batteries and cookies, but we are out of water, said Belgica Zepeda, a salesperson at a Caracas pharmacy.
At hospitals, the lack of power combined with the absence or poor performance of backup generators led to the death of 17 patients across the country, non-governmental organization Doctors for Health said on Saturday.
Power returned briefly to parts of Caracas and other cities on Friday, but went out again around midday on Saturday. Electricity experts said that outage was most likely due to failures in the transmission system, and that the government lacks the equipment and staff to repair them.