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Latin Lefty Meltdown
Venezuela Hunkers Down for 40 Days of Blackouts

Venezuela is no stranger to shortages, having recently struggled with a wide variety of scarcities—from toilet paper to food to medicine—but the South American country is now having to contend with scheduled daily power outages. Deutsche Welle reports:

Officials imposed a four-hour blackout in eight states on Monday local time. Except for the capital Caracas and the city of Vargas, the measures would last for 40 days, AFP news agency reported.President Nicolas Maduro’s latest move was a last-minute attempt to save energy until water levels stabilized at the Guri Dam, which provides for most of Venezuela’s energy. […]

“We’re performing miracles to maintain the quality of life, but I ask for miracles that you compatriots perform at home,” Maduro said in a televised address last week. He also urged women to stop blow drying their hair and stop ironing their clothes to save electricity.

Venezuela’s sputtering economy was already locked in a death spiral, but the country’s mismanagement and fiscal woes are being compounded by Mother Nature’s cruelty: a drought has depleted the Guri Dam’s reservoir to historically low levels as El Niño has delayed the start of the country’s rainy season. But as DW notes, this latest energy crisis can’t just be put down to arid conditions:

Critics, however, say that the current problem is a result of mismanagement and inefficient running of Venezuela’s power network. They say more investment in power plants and increasing power bills could have averted the crisis. Generous state subsidies for the power sector have kept electricity bills low and citizens typically pay US$1 (0.88 euros) a month for power.

And so the Maduro administration is now asking the Venezuelan people to accept these new restrictions as a necessary sacrifice, with yesterday’s 4 hour power cut just the first of a 40 day stretch of blackouts. Lent came late to Venezuela this year, and it looks like the country will be giving up consistent access to power.

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  • Michael Shorts

    Getting 70% of your electricity from a single source is a recipe for disaster.

    • Dale Fayda

      Why? If you have plenty of it and manage it reasonably well, what’s the downside? On the other hand, if an inept and corrupt socialist junta (redundant, I know) completely botches the basic provision of power in a country swimming in oil, THAT’S a recipe for disaster. I would bet my bottom dollar than if Venezuela was not run by the Bolivarean Revolution clown posse, things would have been not nearly as dire.

      • Tom

        “If you have plenty of it and manage it reasonably well, what’s the downside?”

        That’s a rather big if.

        • Dale Fayda

          True, but it has been done numerous times before.

      • http://21stcenturysocialcritic.blogspot.com.es Fernando Leanme

        If Chàvez and Maduro hadn’t been destroying the country, then additional large hydropower plants would have been built as scheduled, the thermal plants would have been maintained, the offshore gas fields would have been developed, and additional heavy oil upgrading capacity would have been built. Venezuela would have produced 4 million BOPD in 2010, the oil price spikes we saw would have been subdued, the USA shale fracking industry would have had a slower growth curve….

    • http://21stcenturysocialcritic.blogspot.com.es Fernando Leanme

      System capacity was over designed, the thermal plants were simply kept on standby as long as the Guri system was stocked with enough water. Also, the system is made up of numerous large turbines, the site isn’t prone to earthquakes, and the engineering is extremely sound. That system was deemed so reliable in the early 1990’s that large multinationals such as Chevron and ConocoPhillips participated in the construction of huge heavy oil upgraders which lacked their own power plants.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    Nothing is as permanent as a “Temporary” Government Program. 40 days, so what’s going to change in 40 days to make this unnecessary? Why would the trend of declining electricity generation suddenly turn around and reverse itself? I think the 4 hours per day, is going to become more than 4 hours.

    • http://21stcenturysocialcritic.blogspot.com.es Fernando Leanme

      A large fraction of Venezuela’s electricity is generated by the Guri hydropower system. That system is fed by a large reservoir which has been drying up gradually. The El Niño climate event causes drought, and this has to be anticipated by increasing thermoelectric power generation. However, the government has neglected maintenance and the thermal plants are in terrible shape. This means the Guri system has been abused.

      There were plans to build other hydropower plants, but the Chávez regime slowed down the construction pace, so they aren’t ready. The system also suffers because in 2010 the Chávez regime followed Cuban advice and installed hundreds of diesel powered mini plants to compensate for that year’s drought. These isolated diesel generators require a lot of maintenance, and today many of them don’t work at all.

      Other problems are associated with extreme corruption, it is likely billions of USD were stolen in the guise of power plant contracts.

      One issue I don’t read much about in the USA media is the Cuban influence over Maduro, and the constant theft or redirection of funds from Venezuela to Cuba via contracts in which Cuban military managed enterprises serve as middlemen to supply Venezuela.

      Another issue that’s evident to me is how Maduro is encouraged to become ever more autocratic and abusive as he sees Obama give Castro the US blessing to be a full fledged dictator who abuses human rights at will. My sense is that the USA foreign policy elites don’t understand that Cuba is in a sense colonizing Venezuela, and that Obama is encouraging this colonization.

  • ljgude

    If this doesn’t prove the need for a centrally planned economy, then nothing will make those free market types see reason. After all Aborigines managed to live for 40,000 years in the outback without one blackout.

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