Blackouts Plague Energy-Rich Venezuela
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. Now, water rationing has been introduced here in the capital.
In response, the president is embarking on his own crusade: pushing Venezuelans to conserve by mocking their consumption habits.
On paper, Venezuela should be swimming in surplus power. The country has huge reserves of oil and natural gas and sizable coal deposits. Its Guri dam complex, built with postwar oil riches in the 1960s, ranks as one of the world’s largest hydroelectric projects.
But energy economists here said a combination of negligence and poor planning pushed Guri to its limit in this decade. They said the president encouraged consumption with a 2002 decree freezing electricity and other utility rates. Meanwhile, nationalization effectively halted renewable-energy projects.
“The problem isn’t a lack of money,” said Víctor Poleo, a former Energy Ministry official under Mr. Chávez. “It’s the irresponsible and corrupt militarism that has replaced the professionalism of the industry.”