Trump says Russians must leave Venezuela; blackout spurs generator sales


A man operates a generator in Caracas, Venezuela, during the blackout on March 26, 2019. EPA-EFE/Rayner Peña

CARACAS.- US President Donald Trump said Wednesday in Washington that Russia «has to get out» of Venezuela, referring to the roughly 100 Russian military personnel who arrived in the South American nation on the weekend, and he suggested that military force is the only mechanism whereby the White House could increase the pressure on the leftist government in Caracas.

«Russia has to get out,» said Trump when asked about Moscow’s military presence in Venezuela during an Oval Office meeting with Fabiana Rosales, the wife of the speaker of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled National Assembly, Juan Guaido.

Last Sunday, two Russian military aircraft landed at Maiquetia International Airport, which serves Caracas, and – according to the daily El Nacional – on board were about 100 Russian soldiers.

The US State Department warned on Monday that Washington «will not stand idly by as Russia exacerbates tensions in Venezuela,» but Moscow defended its military cooperation with the Nicolas Maduro government, which the US and some 50 other nations consider to be illegitimate.

When asked on Wednesday what the US can do to increase pressure on the Maduro regime, Trump responded: «They’ve got a lot of pressure right now. They have no money, they have no oil, they have no nothing. They’ve got plenty of pressure right now. They have no electricity. Other than military you can’t get any more pressure than they have … All options are open.»

Trump seemed to contradict his own statements from last week, when he said that his administration had not yet put really «tough» sanctions in place against Maduro and was keeping that tool available if it were necessary to ratchet up pressure on him.

Vice President Mike Pence also spoke about the arrival of Russian troops in Venezuela during his own meeting with Guaido’s wife, just before Rosales went to the Oval Office to meet with Trump and his daughter Ivanka, a meeting that had not been announced in advance.

«The United States views Russia’s arrival of military planes this weekend as an unwelcome provocation,» Pence told reporters. «We call on Russia today to cease all support of the Maduro regime and stand with Juan Guaido and stand with nations across this hemisphere and across the world until freedom is restored.»

Russia, China and India are among the more than 100 UN member-states that continue to recognize Maduro as Venezuela’s president.

Meanwhile, in Caracas buying or renting an electrical generator has become a basic necessity for citizens, businesses and anyone else who can’t allow themselves to be stymied by power outages and needs a way to obtain electricity amid the blackouts in Venezuela.

Marcos Freire owns a distillery in eastern Caracas. His business is going great guns because, he says, «liquor in Venezuela is selling very well,» but for the past three weeks it has cost him about $40 per day to keep the doors open – and the lights on.

That’s how much he and other businesses in the block where the company is located pay to rent an electric generator.

«You have to work. We’re here to work, we’re not going to be messing around at home relaxing. You have to work around all of this in Venezuela,» the 28-year-old businessman told EFE.

He said that the option of renting a generator is, at present, the only thing that’s available to him because the cost of buying his own such equipment «is very high here.»

However, even the cost of paying by the day is mounting up. Renting a 100 kilovolt-ampere machine costs about $350 per day.

Requests for generators and other backup machinery shot up after March 7 when a massive blackout left almost the entire country in the dark for five days.

Another businessman in the sector who preferred to identify himself only as Andres (not his real name) and specializing in financial clients told EFE that he had had an «upturn» in sales, «an increase easily of 200 or 300 percent.»

He also said that «there are people who have seen an opportunity, … who are a little opportunistic with the business,» accusing them of taking advantage of the situation, but he defended the professionalism of the firms that have been working in the sector for longer.

A National Electric System (SEN) equipment failure that occurred Wednesday morning has prolonged the power outage that started earlier this week in Venezuela, Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez said Wednesday.

«Today, at 5:04 in the morning, due to the fact that we have not yet been able to put the equipment damaged by the terrorist attack into operation, there was a failure in a power line that created instability in the system and a loss of power in part of the national territory,» Rodriguez told state-owned VTV.

Millions of people woke up across Venezuela without electricity on Wednesday, the second straight day that the power has been out in the South American country.

Electric service has been out in almost all areas of the petroleum-producing nation since Monday.

The power is out across most of the 23 states in Venezuela, which has the largest petroleum reserves in the world.
On Tuesday, President Nicolas Maduro’s administration said the nationwide blackout that forced businesses and schools to suspend operations was caused by «terrorist attacks» on the grid, including arson at the Guri Dam, which supplies nearly 70 percent of Venezuela’s electricity.

Wednesday morning’s outage happened while equipment damaged in the «attack» earlier this week was «being repaired,» the communications minister said.

Rodriguez said workers from state-owned electric utility Corpoelec managed to restore power «in record time,» but the flow of electricity is only partial and intermittent.

«By nine in the morning, we had managed to restore power to a large part of the capital region and we’re going to continue step by step in the electric distribution process until all the equipment damaged by terrorism is functioning,» the communications minister said.

As of 11:00 a.m., the capital region and southern Venezuela «had electric service,» Rodriguez said.
Reports on social media, however, said those areas were still without power.

On Tuesday, the government said the nationwide blackout that forced businesses and schools to suspend operations was caused by arson.

Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez said on Twitter that the arsonists targeted turbines at the Guri Dam, which supplies nearly 70 percent of Venezuela’s electricity.

«The criminals created a fire … with the sinister intention of of definitively damaging the generation and transmission of the power,» he wrote.

The electrical grid suffered two attacks on Monday, according to Rodriguez. The first came shortly after 1:00 p.m., while the second occurred at 9:50 p.m., disrupting the process of restoring power.

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