Yesterday marked the end of a power-rationing program in territories of inner Venezuela, which began in April to reduce the country’s energy consumption. But turning the power back on is only a marginal relief when the country’s economy remains in free fall and the nation’s poor suffer from widespread hunger and malnutrition.
The Plan to Manage Power Distribution was put in place after the Guri dam, which produces almost two-thirds of the country’s electricity, reached critically low levels in late April. Since then, the government implemented power cuts, cut down civil servants’ work weeks to just two days and canceled school on Fridays.
Until now, the power cuts have remained problematic in hot regions of Venezuela where residents already struggle to obtain basic medicine and food products and were unable to keep their refrigerated food from spoiling.
According to Prensa Latina, power plants are still not working at full capacity, but the rains of the last few weeks – on top of the government’s measures – have helped recover generation levels.
“As of Monday we can say that the power administration plan will stop, and electrical service will function normally throughout the country,” said Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro to crowds of relieved supporters in a televised broadcast. “Today we can say that Guri has recovered, and we have the conditions under which power service can function normally.”
Critics of Maduro’s government blame the authorities, saying they had failed to invest in Venezuela’s generation and transmission facilities and to make it less reliant on hydroelectric power.
But the government has said the power shortage was caused by the El Niño weather phenomenon, which caused the worst drought Venezuela has seen in 40 years. As a result of the drought, water levels of the Guri dam dropped to a record low.
Maduro’s government also frequently blames power problems on sabotage by opposition leaders seeking to destabilize his government, although no government officials have provided evidence to back that assertion.
More than 13 percent of Venezuelans only eat once or twice a day, and between 2010 and 2015, the rate of malnutrition among children rose from 10 percent to 22.5 percent. These are statistics revealed during a recent forum in Caracas by Cesap, an organization of the Venezuelan Catholic Church, and the Bengoa Foundation, an NGO that tackles malnutrition among children and women. According to PanAm Post, the data for 2016 are still being collected, but the situation is expected to be grave.
Maritza Landaeta, general coordinator for Bengoa and main speaker at the forum, said Venezuela has begun to witness massive hunger among people in extreme poverty, and the economic crisis has created a new social segment – the “new poor” – to encompass those 34 percent of the country’s population who have recently slipped into poverty.
Estimates on the current state of poverty vary. But according to the Organization of American States’ Secretary General Luis Amalgro, the total poverty rate is now around 76 percent.