Diplomats walk out of UN conference in Venezuela protest

CARACAS: A man fills containers with water flowing down from the Wuaraira Repano mountain, also called ‘El Avila’, in Caracas. The blackout has left millions without running water. —AFP

CARACAS: More than 500 shops were looted in Venezuela’s western city of Maracaibo during a vast nationwide blackout that struck last week and lasted for days, a retailers’ association said Wednesday. The Consecomercio association called on beleaguered security forces to reimpose order in Maracaibo and its surrounds.
In a statement, it said it lamented the “impunity with which mobs, taking advantage of the electricity crisis… destroyed installations” in Maracaibo’s main shopping center and in “500 other establishments.” The blackout, which cut power to 21 of Venezuela’s 23 states last Thursday, was still going in western parts of the country.
Electricity had mostly been restored to the capital Caracas and other regions, but drinking water supplies remained disrupted, requiring water to be trucked in. The reason for the unprecedented power cut has not been determined. President Nicolas Maduro blamed it on “sabotage” by the United States and the opposition. Opposition leader and self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaido-who is backed by the US and 50 other countries-told supporters corruption and mismanagement by Maduro’s “dictatorship” was the root cause.

Maracaibo suffered the worst of the looting, but other places, including Caracas, registered some pillaging of shops too. The head of Consecomercio, Felipe Capozzolo, urged authorities to act, stressing on Twitter that looting could undermine retailers’ stockage and distribution of food and basic goods that have become increasingly scarce under Venezuela’s economic crisis. The blackout made matters worse by cutting power to refrigerators and freezers, ruining produce inside. According to economic analysis firm Ecoanalitica, the blackout cost Venezuela $875 million.

Diplomats walk out
in another development, diplomats yesterday walked out of a UN convention on drugs addressed by Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza, saying his government was illegitimate and did not represent the country. Dozens of officials from Latin America, as well as the US, Canada and some European countries, including France, left the room in protest as Arreaza took the podium for the meeting of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in Vienna.

“The members of the Venezuela delegation here today represent the illegitimate government of (Venezuela’s President) Nicolas Maduro, and thus cannot be considered as speaking on behalf of the Venezuelan people,” a spokesperson of the US Mission to International Organizations said in a statement after the walk-out.
Multiple diplomats including from Latin America and Europe had staged a walk-out late last month during an Arreaza address to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, when he called for direct talks between Maduro and US President Donald Trump about the country’s crisis. Arreaza said in his speech in Vienna yesterday that the drug epidemic could only be combated multilaterally, adding that US “unilateral economic steps” have cost the country billions, diverting funds from the fight against drugs.

“Today the multilateral model (of world affairs) is under threat and the situation of Venezuela is an example of this… The government of the US has threatened our people with a military aggression, with a use of force violating the UN charter,” he said. The CND started meeting yesterday to discuss the world drug problem. In Venezuela, widespread anger against President Nicolas Maduro has deepened due to an unprecedented nationwide power blackout. Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido – who is recognized as interim president by more than 50 countries – vowed this week to oust Maduro “very soon”. – Agencies