When last we checked in on our favorite 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 last Sunday.
Meanwhile, thousands of demonstrators held 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 - last 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.”
Needless to say, Maduro’s “measures” didn’t do much to help the situation on the ground, where Venezuelans must queue in front of grocery stores and where 90% of medicine is scarce.
Venezuela is the world’s worst performing economy and barring a sudden (not to mention large) spike in crude prices, the country will in all likelihood default this year as 90% of oil revenue at current prices must go towards debt service payments.
But that hasn’t deterred Maduro, who has vowed to remain defiant in the face of (loud) calls for his exit. “Let them come for me,” he bellowed on Sunday. “I will hang on to power until the final day.”
Maybe so, but one place that’s not “hanging onto power” is the 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,’” The Tribune continues, adding that “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)
“It is not Guri that is in disarray, it is the whole system. Rates frozen, companies nationalized, capacity that was supposed to be installed was never installed and maintenance not carried out”, Miguel Lara, an engineer who worked in the industry for three decades said.
Not so says Maduro. The problem isn't mismanagement, it's El Nino.
"The emergency decision we took is due to El Nino," he said. "We will save more than 40% from these measures."
The "emergency measures" the Tribune references amount to a shutdown of the country. "Venezuela is shutting down for a week as the government struggles with a deepening electricity crisis," Bloomberg writes. "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."
“We’re hoping, God willing, rains will come,” Maduro told the country on Saturday.
Yesterday, Venezuela's energy minister took back his warning that water levels at Guri were set to plunge the country into an electricity crisis, but did ask the public to do as Maduro asks. "It's a matter of cooperating,” he said.
Right. But as The Tribune points out, "Venezuela is now seeing three street protests a day, according to NGO Observatorio de Conflictividad Social [and] on any given day, one of those protests has to do with blackouts -- even though rates have been frozen since 1982."
It would certainly appear that Venezuelans are sick of "cooperating."
And that's bad news for Latin America's "best" leader...