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What’s to Blame for Venezuela Blackout?

As half of Venezuela, including much of the capital Caracas, plunged into darkness during electrical outages Tuesday, the country’s president used Twitter to go on the offensive.

Saying that his government had stabilized the electrical system while directing blame for the outage at political opponents, President Nicolas Maduro posted on Twitter, “It’s evident that behind this is the hand of those who want to weaken our homeland. We follow the path of work and prosperity. Unity and progress!” Maduro was vice president under Hugo Chavez, who died in March.

Venezuela’s energy ministry blamed the problems on transmission line failures, while opposition politicians accused Maduro’s government of failing to invest enough in the grid, according to an Associated Press report.

The blackout reportedly caused traffic chaos and struck several states in Venezuela, but the oil industry—which is powered by separate generators— was not affected, said a Reuters report. The report, citing a government official, said it would take several hours to restore full power. (See related story: “Hugo Chavez Leaves Venezuela Rich in Oil, but Ailing.”)

Venezuelans pay the lowest prices in the world for gasoline, but the country’s economy has been hobbled by inflation and stunted in terms of growth, a situation even the current finance minister acknowledged just this week. (See quiz: “What You Don’t Know About Gas Prices.”) “This is a government that has won 18 elections, that has had social achievements,” the BBC quoted Nelson Merentes as saying in a television interview. “But it still has to be successful on the economy.”

The word that Venezuela’s oil industry remains unaffected for now by the grid problems is a saving grace for the country, which derives half of its federal budget revenue from oil exports and is a top supplier of oil to the United States. But Venezuela’s oil production has fallen off significantly over the last decade, contributing to its economic woes.

Just last month, Venezuela declared a 90-day state of emergency for the electrical sector, effectively renewing a previous declaration in April. The Venezuelan government newspaper reportedly said, “while notable effort has been made by several parties in the national electrical grid to enlarge generation and diminish blackouts, some more work is needed to overcome the state of emergency, taking measures to improve the system reliability.”