Venezuelans may not be able to buy basic goods, like diapers or medicine – but don’t you dare take away their malls.

In a country that prides itself on beauty and fashion – even as its economy continues tanking – a decision to limit mall hours to save electricity has riled up many in this South American nation.

But not for the reason you may think.

Malls have become a haven for Venezuelans as the country has become one of the most violent in the world. In many areas, they are also the only places to see movies.

Venezuela's socialist government is asking more than 100 malls to close or generate their own power four hours each day, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. and from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Now the lines usually seen at supermarkets – where people can spend hours in line to buy a loaf of bread – are cropping up at the malls.

"I need my salary," fast food restaurant manager Yorgenis Tovar said. "I can't let myself become unemployed at this point, with everything getting so expensive."

Officials say the measure will help the economically embattled country cope with problems at hydroelectric plants due to a severe drought caused by the El Niño weather phenomenon.

Venezuela has grappled with blackouts for years, including one that took President Nicolás Maduro by surprise as he delivered a national address on live television. Caracas occasionally shuts down because of citywide loss of power and rural areas see regular rolling blackouts.

Electricity here is virtually free, giving Venezuelans little incentive to conserve.

The government tried a similar policy in 2010, but rolled it back after patrons put up stiff resistance. This time, many shoppers seem resigned.

"Nothing about this surprises me," teacher Rosa Velasquez said. "Every day now something happens to make life here worse."

Based on reporting by The Associated Press.

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