U.S. Markets closed

Venezuelan leader says foes sabotaging power grid

Christopher Toothaker, Associated Press

Venezuela's interim President Nicolas Maduro smiles as he's surrounded by supporters during a campaign rally in Sabaneta, Barinas state, Venezuela, Tuesday, April 2, 2013. Late President Hugo Chavez's chosen successor, Nicolas Maduro is competing against opposition leader Henrique Capriles in the April 14 presidential election. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- Interim President Nicolas Maduro on Thursday charged that allies of Venezuela's opposition are sabotaging the country's power grid ahead of this month's presidential election.

Maduro ordered the military to safeguard power stations across the country to prevent sabotage ahead of the April 14 vote pitting him against opposition leader Henrique Capriles.

"I have ordered the militarization of all the country's electricity facilities and elaboration of a special protection plan," Maduro told supporters at a campaign rally in the city of San Carlos.

Maduro said government adversaries have infiltrated Corpoelec, the state-run power company, and he announced that some of its employees would be investigated for allegedly cooperating with opposition groups bent on sabotaging the grid.

"Those employees who are conspiring against the people will go to jail," Maduro said.

Government opponents, he added, are leading "an economic and electrical war against the people."

Maduro's statements came a day after outages knocked out power in central Aragua state and several districts of Caracas, Venezuela's capital.

The Prosecutor's Office launched an investigation led by Rafael Larios, Aragua's top prosecutor, shortly after Maduro spoke to his supporters.

"There will be technical inspections of Corpoelec's installations with sabotage experts," the state-run AVN news agency quoted Larios as saying.

Military officers will also participate in the investigation, Larios said.

Despite billions of dollars of investment over the last decade, regions throughout this oil-rich South American country have struggled with blackouts in recent years.

Opposition politician Delsa Solorzano rejected Maduro's accusations, saying that the government is to blame for the blackouts.

Power plants are not producing sufficient electricity and many transmission lines are faulty due to lack of investment and maintenance, Solorzano said in a telephone interview after listening to Maduro's remarks.

"Electricity consumption has increased as the population has increased and there has not been sufficient investment," said Solorzano, a member of Capriles' campaign staff. "Instead of resolving the problem, he's is lying and trying to fool the people."


Christopher Toothaker on Twitter: http://twitter.com/ctoothaker