Venezuela

Venezuela cuts office hours amid electricity crunch

Public employees stand outside their office buildings as they wait for power to be restored, in downtown Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, March 25, 2014. A forest fire cut electricity to most of Venezuela's capital and officials were still struggling to restore power to some areas Tuesday, 14 hours after the lights went out.
Public employees stand outside their office buildings as they wait for power to be restored, in downtown Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, March 25, 2014. A forest fire cut electricity to most of Venezuela's capital and officials were still struggling to restore power to some areas Tuesday, 14 hours after the lights went out. AP

Venezuela, which boasts the world’s largest oil reserves, is having trouble keeping the lights on. On Tuesday, the government announced it was cutting public-sector work hours and requiring energy hogs to produce their own electricity during peak hours.

The announcement comes as authorities said they’ve seen a spike in electricity use amid a heat wave.

Among the measures announced, many public offices will only be open from 7:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. — except for key posts, including food and water distribution, the financial sector, mail delivery, and air-traffic controllers, among others. Public entities will also have to reduce power consumption by 20 percent.

“The system is beginning to have instability problems and we must take preventative actions to face the increased electricity demand,” Electricity Minister Jesse Chacón said in a statement. He also said energy consumption had spiked 1,500 megawatts in the last week amid rising temperatures.

The announcements came as parts of eastern Caracas were already seeing energy rationing. Corpelec said Tuesday it was cutting power to avoid overloading transformers.

Vice President Jorge Arreaza said large private-sector consumers, including malls, hotels and factories, would have to reduce their output and generate their own electricity during peak hours from noon until 2:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.

The government didn’t say how long the measure would last.

Arreaza blamed the rising temperatures on global warming and “uncontrolled industrialization — capitalist industrialization that never considers or considered the effect it might have on the climate, society or mother earth.”

During 2010 and 2011, the government rationed electricity after water levels fell at the Guri Dam, the country’s largest electricity generator, the Associated Press reported. In the past, during temporary blackouts, the government has blamed saboteurs.

But the Andean nation also has one of the highest per-capita energy consumption rates in the region. According to the International Energy Agency, Venezuela soaked up 3.4 megawatt-hours per-capita in 2012, versus 1.1 MW in neighboring Colombia and 2.5 MW in Brazil.

In a country where people are already grousing over shortages of basic goods and long shopping lines, the electricity news was causing tension. On social media, users called for Chacón to be fired while others urged people to use as much energy as possible to destabilize the government.

El Chirigue Bipolar, a satire website, took a lighter approach, producing a list of 10 things public workers would do with their new free time. Among them: get in a shopping line and “reminisce about all the times we treated the public poorly.”

Miami Herald Staff Writer Jim Wyss is based in Bogotá, Colombia. Follow him on Twitter @jimwyss

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