Venezuela in electricity emergency

Chavez signed decree

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez
has signed a decree declaring an “electricity emergency” to help his
government tackle power shortages.

Speaking on his new radio show
President Chavez said Venezuela, which depends heavily on hydropower, was
facing the worst drought in 100 years.

Heavy energy users will get a
discount if they cut consumption but face price rises if their usage does not
fall.

Rolling blackouts are already in
force in parts of Venezuela.

President Chavez announced on
Monday that he had signed a decree authorising Energy Minister Ali Rodriguez to
take the necessary measures to guarantee the electricity supply.

“The truth is, it’s an
emergency,” he said.

Under the decree, which will be in
force initially for 60 days, energy users who consume more than 500
kilowatt-hours per month, must reduce their consumption by at least 10 per cent
or face a 75 per cent price rise.

If they cut consumption between 10%
and 20%, they will get a 25% discount on their bill.

Industrial users will also have to
cut their usage by 20% or face sanctions.

Although Venezuela has big oil
reserves, it is dependent on hydro-electricity for some 70% of its power.

This is generated by the massive
Guri Dam complex on the Orinoco River, which has fallen more than 9m (30ft)
below normal.

“Today it fell another 13cm
(5in). It hasn’t rained the whole year; it’s Venezuela’s worst drought in 100
years,” Mr Chavez said.

The government says the drought
coupled with increased demand has stretched resources.

Radio show

Energy and rationing is already in
place, except in the capital, Caracas, where the measures were suspended amid
protests.

Last month Mr Chavez announced that
$1bn (£640m) would be invested in the energy sector.

Critics say poor management and the
failure to invest in infrastructure over the years are to blame, a view
rejected by Mr Rodriguez.

“It’s not due to lack of
investment, even if it’s true that we’ve had some problems (and) delays with
some projects,” he said.

President Chavez’s announcement
came during the first broadcast of his new radio show, Suddenly with Chavez.

He said the programme would always
be preceded by the sound of a harp playing folk music.

“When you hear the pluck of a
harp on the radio, maybe Chavez is coming. It’s suddenly, at any time, maybe
midnight, maybe early morning.”

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