Venezuela is to cut its national power supply for four hours daily, in 10 of its most populous and industrialized states, for more than 40 days. The new measures will keep factories and offices closed and many out of work, magnifying the woes of Venezuelans who already struggle to access and afford food and basic needs.
Venezuela already suffers from the world’s highest inflation rate and widespread shortages of medicine, food and basic goods ranging from cooking oil to toilet paper.
Venezuelans will also soon have to do without beer, as the company Empresas Polar SA recently announced it would have to stop producing beer by the end of the month due to severe dollar shortages that have crimped its ability to import barley. The company, which produces 80 percent of the country’s beer, has said 10 thousand workers will lose their jobs as a result.
The power cuts are a drastic effort to alleviate an electricity crisis, which President Nicolas Maduro’s government blames on a drought that has limited the country’s ability to generate electricity. The socialist administration also placed blame on acts of sabotage by its political opponents, although no government officials have provided evidence to back that assertion.
The government’s critics say that years of failing to invest in infrastructure is more to blame. Compounding the problem is that around half of the country’s generated electricity is stolen during transmission. Most of the theft is carried out in poor neighborhoods and dangerous areas, which are relatively inaccessible to police and electricity service crews.
Critics also point out that Maduro’s new measures – which include giving government employees extra days off, reducing the workday to six hours for ministries and state companies, ordering hotels and stores to ration their electricity and generate their own power for several hours a day, and urging Venezuelan women to stop using their hairdryers – are not a long-term solution.
“The greatest power consumption is residential,” said Luis Motta Dominguez, minister for electric power, speaking at the Guri hydroelectric plant, Agence France-Press reported.
The Guri dam, one of the largest in the world, provides 70 percent of the power grid in Venezuela.
“We need to take these measures because we are not making a conscious effort to save energy and reservoirs must be preserved until they are filled by the rains,” said Motta in a separate statement. “It is a sacrifice for the benefit and protection of the people.”
Analysts warn that the new measures will further damage the country’s oil-dependent economy, which the International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts will contract 8 percent this year. Venezuela is also expected to be the country with the largest GDP drop in Latin America this year, according to the IMF, for the second year in a row.
The dire economic conditions have put pressure on Maduro, whose political opposition is seeking to unseat the socialist president via popular pressure, a referendum or a constitutional amendment. This sentiment is shared by Venezuelans, with 72 percent saying they want Maduro out of office, according to a recent poll.
Maduro, 53, was elected by a narrow margin in 2013 after the death of his mentor, Hugo Chavez.
Piero Treipiccione, a political analyst and professor at Andres Bello Catholic University, says the increasing political pressure might mean even less will be done at the executive level to remedy the country’s problems.
“In the next months, we can expect Maduro to focus on protecting his post instead of making the decisions needed to alleviate the country’s economic and social problems,” said Trepiccione.