President Hugo Chavez is confident
that God and nature will pull Venezuela out of a power crisis battering both
the economy and his popularity.
Rationing and blackouts have
afflicted the South American oil exporter since late 2009, due mainly to a
drought that has cut water levels at hydroelectric installations normally supplying
more than two-thirds of power needs.
The crisis may cause a second year
of economic contraction in Venezuela and is also weighing on Chavez’s approval
ratings ahead of a legislative election in September that he and opponents are
casting as a referendum on his rule.
“The squalid ones are hoping
it won’t rain,” Chavez said, using his usual term for the opposition.
“But it’s going to rain,
you’ll see, because God is a ‘Bolivarian.’ God cannot be squalid. Nature is
with us,” the socialist leader added during an event with athletes.
In power for 11 years, Chavez
portrays his “21st century socialism” as a revival of the ideals of South
American independence hero Simon Bolivar, even changing Venezuela’s name to the
“Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.”
Venezuela’s next rainy season is
due around May; although meteorologists say there may be delays this year due
to the El Nino weather phenomenon.
The government has introduced
rationing across Venezuela and is threatening fines and cut-offs to large
consumers who fail to reduce power use by 20 per cent.
“I apologise to all the people
who are suffering electricity rationing. But I’ve said it since the start of
the year, we have to do it. It’s like being put on a diet, in this case an
electricity diet,” Chavez said.