Blackout hits much of Venezuela, including Caracas; second in a month

CARACAS, March 25 (Reuters) - Lights went out across much of Venezuela including many areas of the capital city of Caracas on Monday, according to Reuters witnesses, less than two weeks after power was restored following a prolonged blackout.

Power was out in much of eastern Caracas as well as downtown, where the Miraflores presidential palace and most government ministries are located. Authorities announced that the Caracas subway was shutting down due to the lack of power.

Several western states had no power, according to Reuters witnesses, though it remained on in the southern city of Puerto Ordaz and in parts of Valencia, the country’s third largest city. Neither state electricity company Corpoelec nor the Venezuelan information ministry responded to requests for comment.

Electricity went out in much of the OPEC nation on March 7, and reliable service was only restored four to six days later in most major cities. The blackout led to widespread looting in parts of the country, and briefly paralyzed oil exports.

President Nicolas Maduro blamed the blackout on cyber “sabotage” by his U.S. counterpart, Donald Trump, but former energy officials and local engineers told Reuters it was likely caused by a technical problem with transmission lines linking the Guri hydroelectric plant to the national power grid.

Blackouts have long been common in Venezuela due to years of underinvestment and lack of maintenance.

The outage earlier this month was the most severe in the country’s history. It took place as the country slipped into a deep political crisis after National Assembly President Juan Guaido invoked the constitution to assume the interim presidency in January, arguing that Maduro’s May 2018 re-election was illegitimate.

Guaido has been recognized as Venezuela’s rightful leader by most Western countries, including the United States. Maduro, a socialist who took office in 2013, says Guaido is a U.S. puppet attempting to lead a coup against him, and has the support of Russia and China. (Reporting by Caracas newsroom; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)