CARACAS, Venezuela – A power outage briefly darkened Venezuela's capital and other parts of the country Monday night in what President Nicolas Maduro said appeared to have been an act of sabotage against his socialist government.
The blackout began shortly after 8 p.m. as Maduro was addressing the nation about his plan to reduce inflation battering the automotive industry. Within minutes, people in downtown Caracas could be heard banging on pots in an act of protest.
Maduro, deprived of the airwaves, then took to Twitter to say that he and his aides were monitoring the "strange blackout that occurred in the same place as the last act of sabotage."
Later, when power was restored, he ordered the armed forces on maximum alert to prevent attacks that he said were being planned by his opponents against the electric grid and the nation's oil installations.
Maduro in recent days had warned that his opponents might try to sabotage the electrical grid to gain advantage in nationwide elections for mayors taking place Sunday. The late President Hugo Chavez used to levy the same charge, also without presenting any evidence, as blackouts became more frequent in recent years.
"These sectors of fascism are getting desperate, because they know a defeat is coming," Maduro said in remarks that extended for more than four hours.
Power started coming back on in Caracas within 10 minutes, and Electricity Minister Jesse Chacon later told state television that electricity had been restored to most of the city but was still out in several regions of the country. The blackout originated in central Venezuela, the same place where a power failure in September knocked out electricity to 70 percent of the country, he said.
"We're afraid," said Olinda Reyes, a homemaker who was evacuated from a shopping center in wealthier eastern Caracas shortly after power was lost. "There are no buses, the subway doesn't work and we're in complete darkness at the mercy of God."
Although Venezuela has the world's largest proven oil reserves, it has been plagued by power outages in recent years. Generally the areas most affected are outside the capital, where the infrastructure is less developed and farther away from the national and international media spotlight.
Capriles frequently cites the power disruptions as evidence of government incompetence despite the millions of dollars it has spent to modernize the system since a drought-induced power crisis in 2010.