Socialist and oil-rich Venezuela entered a new chapter of economic despair Monday, as the authoritarian government shut off electricity for refrigerators to ration power.
The authoritarian government run by former bus driver and Hugo Chavez-confidant, President Nicolas Maduro, has also imposed daily four-hour blackouts across Venezuela. This extreme measure is set to last 40 days but will not include Caracas and Vargas states.
These measures are only the latest in a long line of drastic policies the government has implemented in recent months. The OPEC-member country has had trouble keeping the lights on, leading Maduro to recommend women not use hair dryers.
Low oil prices worldwide combined with years of chronically inefficient management of the state-owned oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA) have led to this disastrous situation. The country was even forced to shut down malls to save electricity back in February.
Government employees now have a four-day work week as yet another way of cutting down on power usage. Venezuela has been under a Socialist government since 1999 when the late Hugo Chavez was elected president.
The conservative opposition finally managed in December 2015 to win the country’s legislative elections and take control of the country’s National Assembly — the equivalent of Congress. Since the elections, there have been tensions over power sharing, which has led to stalemate and increased Socialist control.
Venezuela enforces public sector leave on three weekdays
Venezuela’s Government Tuesday announced enforced leave for public sector workers three days a week, meaning they will only work just two days, in a bid to tackle an electricity shortage.
“There will be no work in the public sector on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, except for fundamental and necessary tasks,” Vice President Aristobulo Isturiz said on television.
It is the latest drastic measure by the government as it also grapples with an economic crisis that has Venezuelans queuing for hours to buy scarce supplies in shops.
President Nicolas Maduro’s government had already cut the workday for the country’s two million public sector employees to six hours and put them on paid leave on Fridays until June 6.
His vice president on Tuesday said the measure would now be extended by two days, apart from the weekend, so they will only work on Mondays and Tuesdays.
He added that primary and high schools would also now be closed to pupils on Fridays.
The government blames the power shortage on a drought caused by the El Nino weather phenomenon, which has caused the country’s hydroelectric dams to run low.
Venezuela is hoping for a lot of rain over the coming weeks to replenish the reservoirs while the restrictions are in place.
Critics say the shortage is the result of economic mismanagement and inefficient running of the energy network.
The government also imposed four-hour daily electricity blackouts this week on eight regions in the country.
That raised discontent among citizens who are already suffering shortages of medicines and goods such as toilet paper and cooking oil.
Last week, the government also said it was shifting its time zone forward by 30 minutes to save power by adding half an hour of daylight.
Venezuela’s economy has plunged along with the price of the oil it relies on for foreign revenues.
Maduro blames the collapse on an “economic war” by capitalists.
Maduro is under growing pressure from the center-right opposition, which vowed to oust him when it took control of the legislature in January after winning an election.
His opponents advanced Tuesday in their mission to drive him from office when electoral authorities gave them authorization to take initial steps seeking a recall referendum.
The National Electoral Board said it would hand over the paperwork allowing them to seek nearly 200,000 signatures needed as a first step towards calling a referendum.
“The country is on the move to achieve democratically what is allowed under the constitution: to hold a referendum this year and then elect a new government of national unity that can get us out of this chaos,” said Julio Borges, leader of the opposition majority in the legislature.
Maduro’s opponents say he controls the electoral authorities and the Supreme Court, which has blocked several of their bills in the legislature.
Analysts and some politicians have warned that public discontent could lead to mass unrest in the country, which is already ranked by the United Nations as one of the most violent in the world.
Anti-government street protests in Venezuela left 43 people dead in 2014.