CARACAS, April 1 (Reuters) - Venezuelans on Monday prepared to hold protests over continued shortages of power and water following angry demonstrations as the government of President Nicolas Maduro appeared prepared to begin a rationing program.
Police fired gunshots in parts of Caracas on Sunday night, according to Reuters witnesses, after residents set up burning barricades to demand a return of electricity and running water.
Demonstrators in several neighborhoods of eastern Caracas were calling for street protests to demand a return of basic services, which have crippled commerce and led to constant cancellation of school activities since the start of March.
Opposition leader Juan Guaido, who has been recognized by most Western nations as the country’s legitimate leader, was scheduled to speak at Central University in Caracas on Monday morning.
“We’ll see each other in the streets tomorrow,” Guaido, who invoked the country’s constitution to assume an interim presidency in January after arguing Maduro’s May 2018 re-election was illegitimate, tweeted on Sunday night. “We will not hide from the dictator.”
Maduro on Sunday night said the country would begin a program of “load administration,” which Venezuelans on social media interpreted as a program of power rationing, without providing details on when it would start.
Electricity supplies have been intermittent in the capital city Caracas for several days. On Monday morning, the power was on in some blocks but not in adjacent ones.
Blackouts and water shortages have long been common in Venezuela, especially in the interior. But the outages in March were more frequent, more widespread, and longer-lasting than previous incidents, particularly in the capital.
Maduro, a socialist, has blamed the outages on “attacks” on the Guri hydroelectric plant in southeastern Venezuela, which supplies electricity to most of the country, by the United States and the domestic opposition.
His critics and local electrical engineers consulted by Reuters said the blackouts were due to years of underinvestment and lack of maintenance of the country’s electrical infrastructure.
Reporting by Brian Ellsworth and Luc Cohen Editing by Susan Thomas