POLITICS

Newest commodity to be rationed in boiling-hot Venezuela? Electricity

  • A man wearing a head lamp walks inside a building during a general blackout in Caracas on December 02, 2013. AFP PHOTO/Leo RAMIREZ        (Photo credit should read LEO RAMIREZ/AFP/Getty Images)

    A man wearing a head lamp walks inside a building during a general blackout in Caracas on December 02, 2013. AFP PHOTO/Leo RAMIREZ (Photo credit should read LEO RAMIREZ/AFP/Getty Images)  (2013 AFP)

Venezuelans are criticizing electricity rationing that government officials began carrying out this week after the country’s electrical system continued to overload because of an ongoing heat wave.

Ministries and other public institutions will now work until 1:00 p.m., reducing their workday from 8 to 6 hours. Private companies have also been required to cut their electricity intake by 10 percent.

The overall goal is to achieve a 20-percent reduction of country’s power consumption in order to prevent overloading the system.

"We are in the presence of a significant increase in the temperature," said Jesse Chacón, the country's Energy Minister, according to Reuters.

But electrical experts told Fox News Latino the plan falls short and makes no sense.

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“You don’t change much with it. Every worker will go to his house and use the electricity there, there is no a real change. The electricity rationing was already tried in 2009 and it didn’t work,” Miguel Lara, electrical engineer from the Central University of Venezuela, told Fox News Latino. “This decision is just going to affect ordinary citizens.”

Even with the rationing, people from Parque Caiza, an area in the northern part of Caracas, continued to suffer rolling blackouts this week.

“Since April, we have lost power around five times every day. Normally, the interruptions last 5 to 10 minutes, but that’s enough to damage televisions, fridges, the building’s elevators and other electrical appliances,” said Elisa Gutiérrez, who lives in Parque Caiza, told FNL.

Gutiérrez said the blackouts damaged two of her TVs, forcing her to borrow one from a friend.

“Amid this economic crisis you don’t have money to repair electronics or buy new ones,” she said.

The blackout are causing violence to rise in a country already reeling from an uptick in crime because it is spiraling into an economic crisis, with store shelves lacking basic commodities like milk, diapers and soap.

“At night, criminals take advantage of the situation and rob people,” Gutiérrez said. “Every time [there is a blackout] two or more people become victims because their street lighting doesn’t work.”

Widespread blackouts that last days, even a week, are occurring all across the country.

Lara said it could take years for the country to fully recover from the electrical problem it faces because the power grids are inadequate and incapable of meeting demand.

“There are problems with the energy distribution lines. About 80 percent of them are overloaded,” he said. “According to the government, energy production increased from 23,700 to 34,000 megawatts and the demand went from 17,300 to 18,300 megawatts – so we really shouldn’t be experiencing this much of a power failure.”

And, he said, those in charge of the country’s energy sector are political appointees unable to solve the crisis.

But Venezuelan government officials have blamed the blackouts on climate change.

“This is, of course, linked to global warming and the excessive industrialization of capitalism, which never stops, nor has ever stopped, for the effects that it can have on the climate, on society and on Mother Earth,” Vice President Jorge Arreaza said in a public address.

Many fear that the rationing will create new problems. The reduction of hours at public-sector areas will affect those who have to visit those offices to get stuff done.

Recently, the ministries of health and university education were crowded with people trying to obtain permits and document certificates.

“Usually, around 800 people come here daily to process documents,” said a health ministry worker who did not want to give her name. “About 600 of them used to come in the morning and the rest would come in the afternoon.”

About 200 people visit the University Education ministry every day. The shortened hours have already lengthened waiting times. Already, people arrive at 4 a.m. to get paperwork done.

Doing paperwork in Venezuela’s public administration is a hard process under normal circumstances. People wait in lines from 4:00 am or earlier. Now this could worsen: "We haven´t prepare an emergency plan", the Health worker confessed.

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Franz von Bergen is a freelancer reporter living in Caracas.

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