MasterBlog en Español: CHAVEZ'S WELL RUNS DRY

miércoles, 11 de noviembre de 2009



Political opponents and experts blame water and electricity shortages on
communist leadership. Losing power: In Venezuela, communism is a cold shower


Last update: November 9, 2009 - 7:38 PM

The economy is in recession but sales of at least two items are booming in
Venezuela: water-storage tanks and portable generators. A country that has
claimed the world's biggest oil reserves and is home to its fourth-mightiest
river, the Orinoco, has recently been forced to ration both water and
electricity. Hugo Chavez, the leftist president, blames the profligacy of
consumers and a drought caused by El Niño weather. National blackouts
Certainly, lower rainfall has cut the flow to the country's main
hydroelectric dam (which provides three-fifths of its electricity) by 10
percent. But the opposition, and several independent experts, say the
underlying cause is the government's failure to plan, maintain and invest in
the necessary infrastructure. Only a quarter of the funds budgeted for power
generation have in fact been spent on it, says Víctor Poleo, who was deputy
minister for electricity early in Chavez's decade in power. In 2007 the
president compounded the problem by nationalizing what remained of the
private power industry. Since then there have been half-a-dozen national
blackouts. Meanwhile, demand for electricity has grown by an annual average
of 4.5 percent. Power plants cannot be used to take up the slack. They have
been neglected. Four out of five turbines at the biggest of them, Planta
Centro on the Caribbean coast, are out of action. Even José Vicente Rangel,
an ultra-loyal chavista and the former vice president, was moved to ask:
"What's going on? Why haven't urgent and drastic measures been taken?" The
perception that the government has bungled is contributing to a fall in
Chavez's popularity rating, now put at 46 percent by Datanalisis, a
pollster. Chavez has called on Venezuelans to take quicker showers. "Some
people sing in the bath for half an hour," he told a recent cabinet meeting,
broadcast live. "What kind of communism is that? Three minutes is more than
enough!" It is true that Venezuelans are not thrifty by nature. But the
government has hitherto done nothing to encourage them to conserve water or
energy. Utility rates have been frozen for most of Chavez's time in office.
The president faces crucial parliamentary elections next year and needs to
woo voters. But after 10 years of neglect, there is no quick fix for
crumbling infrastructure. "There is no PR trick that will make the crisis go
away," said Poleo.

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