This country may be an energy colossus, with the largest conventional oil reserves outside the Middle East and one of the world’s mightiest hydroelectric systems, but that has not prevented it from enduring serious electricity and water shortages that seem only to be getting worse.
President Hugo Chávez has been facing a public outcry in recent weeks over power failures that, after six nationwide blackouts in the last two years, are cutting electricity for hours each day in rural areas and in industrial cities like Valencia and Ciudad Guayana. Now, water rationing has been introduced here in the capital.
Over the course of the last decade, Chavez has nationalized the better portion of the utilities industry as oil money flowed into the country and drove growth in Venezuela. Now that we have seen global demand wane, it looks like poor little Hugo is learning, probably for the first time, the inefficiencies inherent in centrally planned economies. As oil revenues poured in, things got better for the greater population in Venezuela right?
The deterioration of services is perplexing to many here, especially because the country had grown used to cheap, plentiful electricity and water in recent decades. But even as the oil boom was enriching his government and Mr. Chávez asserted greater control over utilities and other industries in this decade, public services seemed only to decay, adding to residents’ frustrations.
With oil revenues declining and the economy slowing, the shortages may have no quick fixes in sight. The government announced some emergency measures this week, including limits on imports of air-conditioning systems, rate increases for consumers of large amounts of power and the building of new gas-fired power plants, which would not be completed until the middle of the next decade.
So what does Hugo do? He moves towards a more efficient market based economy right?
In response, the president is embarking on his own crusade: pushing Venezuelans to conserve by mocking their consumption habits.
He began his critique last month with the amount of time citizens spent under their shower heads, saying three-minute showers were sufficient. “I’ve counted and I don’t end up stinking,” he said. “I guarantee it.”
Then he went after the country’s ubiquitous love motels and shopping malls, accusing them of waste. “Buy your own generator,” he threatened, “or I’ll cut off your lights.” He similarly laid blame with “oligarchs,” a frequently used insult here for the rich, for overconsumption of water in gardens and swimming pools.
Damn those clean people. How dare they want to wash themselves. Additionally those money changers are trying to throw their weight around.
Mr. Chávez is even going after his countrymen’s expanding waistlines. “Watch out for the fat people,” he said last month, citing a study finding a jump in obesity. “Time to lose weight through dieting and exercise.”
When Chavez writes his little red book the first political piece of advice will be "fatty, fatty two by four can't fit through the bathroom door." I wonder if that will show up in any of the speeches of Mark Lloyd and Anita Dunn in the future. Fat People are the scourge of existence they don't share their bounty.
Meanwhile, homes and businesses across the country are adapting to the erratic supply of power and, here in Caracas, of water. Sales of small generators, candles and water storage tanks are surging. Reflecting the unease of the already strained industrial base, which developed around access to ample and cheap power, Sidor, a steel maker in Ciudad Guayana, said it was shutting down its furnaces five hours a day because of the cuts.
“If this crisis teaches us something,” said Fernando Branger, an energy expert at the Institute of Superior Administration Studies, a Caracas business school, “it is that the immensity of our energy reserves means nothing if we cannot even get them out of the ground.”
Socialism will never be able to match up to the efficiency of capitalism. Can we finally throw this model on the dustbin of history.(see what I did there, I quoted Trotsky)