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Maduro Fires Electricity Minister After Devastating Blackouts

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro announced that he had replaced the country’s electricity minister amid a string of three nationwide blackouts that sparked protests against the lack of basic services including water supply.

Reuters quoted Maduro as saying the new minister is an electrical engineer. This, however, is unlikely to help much with the root causes of the crisis, which some observers have attributed to years of underinvestment in power plants and the grid. Maduro himself blamed the first blackout on the United States, calling it sabotage.

The news about the new appointment follows an announcement from earlier this week that electricity will be rationed for at least a month following the third blackout in a month. The rationing, Maduro said, will help the authorities deal with the consequences of the power outages.

The blackouts are the latest in a host of woes for the sanction-stricken country. The first one crippled the already ailing economy and paralyzed Venezuela’s oil industry. So did the second one, which shut down the country’s most important oil export terminal, the port of Jose, temporarily suspending vital shipments of oil amid a shrinking client base.

This may shrink further as reports emerged last week that Washington was pressuring commodity traders to stop buying Venezuelan crude even if the deals were not in violation of the U.S. sanctions against Venezuela.

The country’s oil industry has also suffered from the power outages just when Venezuela needs to export more of its falling production. The blackouts extended from the port of Jose to the four upgraders that process Venezuela’s superheavy crude into a liquid making it fit for exporting.

According to a recent Reuters survey, Venezuela’s production fell by 150,000 bpd as a result of the blackouts, adding to an ongoing decline resulting from a lack of maintenance and seriously aggravated by the U.S. sanctions targeting Venezuela’s oil industry specifically as the main revenue generator for the Maduro government.

By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com

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