(CNSNews.com) – As the death toll linked to Venezuela’s national power outage edged higher, the Trump administration on Monday stepped up its criticism of Cuba’s support for the Maduro regime, while Havana insinuated that the United States was behind what it called “terrorist sabotage” of its ally’s power grid.
According to José Manuel Olivares, a Venezuelan opposition politician and oncologist tracking the impact of the blackout which began Thursday, at least 24 people, including newborn babies, had died in several hospitals as of Monday evening. Other reports claim higher numbers of fatalities.
As the country’s political crisis deepens, National Assembly head Juan Guaido – recognized by the U.S. and some 53 other countries as interim president pending new elections – has called for fresh nationwide street protests on Tuesday afternoon.
“In four days we have regressed 100 years,” he said in reference to the power outage, which the El Universal daily reports is affecting Caracas and 22 of Venezuela’s 23 states.
Guaido warned that as a result of the regime’s corruption and inefficiency, the situation would likely worsen.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo late Monday announced that remaining U.S. diplomatic personnel would be withdrawn from the country this week, citing the “deteriorating situation in Venezuela as well as the conclusion that the presence of U.S. diplomatic staff at the embassy has become a constraint on U.S. policy.”
Speaking at the State Department earlier, he spoke about that “deteriorating situation.”
“Over the past few days, Venezuelans have been thrown literally into darkness thanks to a massive electrical blackout,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said at the State Department.
“Patients awaiting treatment in hospitals are dying, food is rotting, telecommunication networks are entirely collapsing.”
Pompeo attributed the outage to “years and years of neglect to the Venezuelan energy system.”
“The system has had problems for an awfully long time,” he told reporters. “Their ability to get it back online has always proven difficult, and over the past several years it’s gotten worse.”
“Nicolas Maduro promised Venezuelans a better life in a socialist paradise, and he delivered on the socialism part, which has proved time and time again is a recipe for economic ruin,” he said. “The paradise part, not so much.”
Pompeo’s remarks at the State Department focused largely on communist Cuba’s links to the crisis in Venezuela.
He described Cuba as “the true imperialist power in Venezuela,” characterizing it as propping up Maduro, advising and providing physical protection for him, and training his security forces in the “mechanisms of repression the Cuban authorities have wielded against their own people for decades.”
Pompeo charged that the same ideology and “economic theories that have decimated the Cuban economy since 1959 have now turned Venezuela’s economy – one of the richest in Latin America – into a case of decline that economists study with amazement and horror.”
He also noted that the Maduro regime sends up to 50,000 barrels of crude oil a day to Cuba.
“Cuba needs this cheap Venezuelan energy to prop up its tottering socialist economy, while Maduro needs Cuban expertise in repression to keep his grip on power,” he said. “That’s a match made in hell.”
Venezuela’s National Assembly on Monday issued a decree suspending the crude oil shipments to Cuba, with Guaido saying that “we will not continue to finance the interference of Cubans in our armed forces.”
With Maduro retaining the loyalty of senior military chiefs, however, it looked unlikely that the shipments would be halted.
Nonetheless, he called for “international cooperation to make this measure effective,” and in Washington, National Security Advisor John Bolton tweeted that “[i]nsurance companies and flag carriers that facilitate these give-away [oil] shipments to Cuba are now on notice.”
‘A ferocious campaign of McCarthyist propaganda’
In Havana, Pompeo’s Cuban counterpart Bruno Rodriguez railed against the U.S., stating on Twitter that Cuba does not interfere in Venezuela’s internal affairs or vice versa.
“It is absolutely not true that Cuba is engaged in [Venezuelan military or security service] operations,” he said. “These are slanderous rumors disseminated by U.S. government with aggressive political aims.”
Rodriguez’ ministry also released a lengthy statement on behalf of the Cuban regime suggesting that the U.S. was behind Venezuela’s power outage.
“The Revolutionary Government strongly condemns the sabotage perpetrated against the power supply system in Venezuela, which is a terrorist action intended to harm the defenseless population of an entire nation and turn it into a hostage of the non-conventional war launched by the government of the United States against the legitimate government headed by comrade Nicolás Maduro Moros and the civic and military union of the Bolivarian and Chavista people.”
Referring back to the failed U.S.-backed invasion by anti-Castro exiles shortly after the Cuban revolution, the regime said history showed that actions like those occurring in Venezuela “are a prelude of violent acts of a larger scope, as was the case of the armed invasion through Bay of Pigs in 1961.”
The statement also criticized what it called “a ferocious campaign of McCarthyist propaganda and lies” singling out Bolton and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the son of Cuban immigrants and an outspoken critic of the regimes in Havana and Caracas.
For its part, the Maduro regime blames the outages on a cyber-attack on a computerized system that regulates a hydroelectric power plant at a dam in Bolivar state, one of the largest in the world.