When we last checked in on everyone's favorite Latin American socialist paradise, Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro’s opponents "had gone crazy." Or at least that’s how Maduro described the situation in a “thundering” speech to supporters at what he called an “anti-imperialist” rally in Caracas in mid-March.
Meanwhile, thousands of demonstrators had been holding counter-rallies calling for the President’s ouster. Maduro angered the opposition - which dealt Hugo Chavez’s leftist movement its worst defeat at the ballot box in history in December - the previous month when he used a stacked Supreme Court to give himself emergency powers he says will help him deal with the country’s worsening economic crisis.
"Now that the economic emergency decree has validity, in the next few days I will activate a series of measures I had been working on,” he said, following Congress’s declaration of a “food emergency.”
The "emergency measures" in effect, amounted to a shutdown of the country. "Venezuela is shutting down for a week as the government struggles with a deepening electricity crisis," Bloomberg wrote. "President Nicolas Maduro gave everyone an extra three days off work next week, extending the two-day Easter holiday, according to a statement in the Official Gazette published late Tuesday."
The reason for the electrical rationing was the water content of Venezuela's Guri Dam, which supplies more than two-thirds of the country’s electricity. As The Latin American Herald Tribune writes, the dam “is less than four meters from reaching the level where power generation will be impossible. Water levels at the hydroelectric dam are 3.56 meters from the start of a ‘collapse’ of the national electric system. Guri water levels are at their lowest levels since 2003, when the a nationwide strike against Hugo Chavez reduced the need for power, masking the problem."
(arrow shows where the water shoud be if the dam were operating at capacity)
As a result, Maduro blamed El-Nino for implementing what was a three-day weekend.
"The emergency decision we took is due to El Nino," he said. "We will save more than 40% from these measures."
For now, however, the weather has refused to comply and as Bloomberg reports this morning, Maduro has expanded his mid-March decree, and designated every Friday in the months of April and May as a non-working holiday in his ongoing bid to save electricity as a prolonged drought pushes water levels to a critical threshold at hydro-generation plants.
The country will unveil details of a 60-day plan to conserve energy Thursday, Maduro said, adding that measures would include asking large users such as shopping malls and hotels to generate their own electricity for nine hours a day. Heavy industries operating in the country will be asked to cut consumption by 20 percent, he said.
“This plan for 60 days, for two months, will allow the country to get through the most difficult period with the most risk,” Maduro said on state television late Wednesday. "I call on families, on the youth, to join this plan with discipline, with conscience and extreme collaboration to confront this extreme situation” of the drought blamed on the El Nino weather system.
As noted above, the announcement comes after Maduro shut down the country for a week over the Easter holiday last month, giving workers an extra three days off. Those efforts saved almost 22 centimeters of water at Guri Dam in the southern state of Bolivar, which supplies as much as 75 percent of the electricity consumed in the capital Caracas.
If water levels at the dam fall below 240 meters above sea level, the government may have to shut down the plant to avoid damaging turbines - a move that would inevitably lead to increased rationing. The level is currently around 243 meters, Maduro said.
It wasn’t immediately clear if the new four-day work week would be extended only to public sector workers or if the measure would include the private sector.
It also wasn't clear if, in case the water level drops below 240 meters, and Venezuela is essentially without power, if the 3 days weekend would be expanded to comprise every day of the week.
Then again, considering the economic state of Venezuela, this may not be bad news for the long-suffering local population.