Electricity rationed in Venezuela as crisis deepens
CARACAS - Electricity is being rationed from this week in 10 of cash-strapped Venezuela’s most populous and industrialized states, including metropolitan Caracas.
BBC News reports that the power cuts will last four hours a day for 40 days as the country struggles under a severe drought limiting hydroelectric output.
The move is the latest in a series of measures to alleviate an electricity crisis which President Nicolas Maduro and his government blame on the El Nino weather phenomenon, while critics maintain is the result of years of economic mismanagement.
Energy Minister Luis Motta Dominguez announced the power cuts on television in a programme broadcast from the Guri hydroelectric plant.
Motta said that the water level in the dam feeding the facility in Venezuela’s southeast, which supplies 70 percent of the country’s grid, “continues to decline steadily and is approaching the minimum operating height.” The situation left authorities no option but to ration, he added.
President Maduro noted that residential energy-saving targets had not been met, necessitating the rationing that “will save the Guri” from collapse.
Water levels in the country’s 18 hydroelectric dams have dropped to dangerously low levels, and citizens regularly suffer blackouts and water rationing, according to an AFP report.
Although Venezuela has the world’s largest proven oil reserves, the government has resisted using crude to generate electricity, calling it “inefficient.”
Meanwhile, Venezuela’s economy has plunged along with the price of the oil on which it relies for foreign revenues. Shortages of medicines and everyday items like toilet paper and cooking oil are widespread.
Maduro blames the crisis on an “economic war” by capitalists.
Last week, his government said it was shifting its time zone forward by 30 minutes to save power.
Other measures to cut electricity use include reducing the workday to six hours for ministries and state companies and ordering them to lower their electricity consumption by 20 percent.
Maduro has also ordered shops and hotels to ration electricity, obliging them to generate their own power for several hours a day.
Shopping centres have cut back their hours since that plan was introduced, and analysts warn that the measures being introduced will further damage the productivity of the country, which is in dire economic straits.
Venezuela’s inflation rate of 180 percent for 2015 is the highest in the world.
One of the latest casualties of the crisis is the country’s main brewer, Polar, which says it will stop production because it has no dollars to buy grain abroad, according to a BBC report.
The company, which produces 80 percent of the country’s beer, says 10,000 workers will be affected by the stoppage.
Besides accusing the country’s business elite of colluding with the US to wreck the economy, Maduro has accused the President of Polar, Lorenzo Mendoza, of being allied to the opposition which now dominates the Venezuelan parliament.
Maduro, in turn, is under growing pressure from the centre-right opposition, which vowed to oust him when it took control of the legislature in January after winning elections, blaming him for the crippling economic crisis.