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Venezuelans Are Pissed About Plan for Two-Day Work Week to Combat Energy Crisis

The announcement that public sector employees will be paid for five days despite working only two in a desperate bid to conserve electricity was not well received.

by Tess Owen
Apr 27 2016, 5:07pm

Photo de Miguel Gutierrez/EPA

Venezuela is in the throes of an electricity crisis, and President Nicolas Maduro is pulling out all the stops in a desperate bid to conserve what little juice the South American county has left.

On Tuesday, Maduro's government announced that the government's 2 million public employees will only work Monday and Tuesday, and that they will be paid for the days they spend at home.

"There will be no work in the public sector on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, except for fundamental and necessary tasks," Vice President Aristobulo Isturiz announced. The new schedule will remain in effect until the energy crisis was over.

The declaration was not well received. Protesters took to the streets on Tuesday night, and looters raided shops for food and set fires. More than a dozen people were arrested for looting in Maracaibo, Venezuela's second-largest city, according to state security secretary Biagio Parisi.

Earlier this month, Maduro declared every Friday a national holiday for public sector workers for the following eight weeks. "We'll have long weekends," he said resolutely on state television. Those long weekends are now being extended to elementary school teachers, but employees of public hospitals and state-run supermarkets still have to work.

Related: Every Friday Is Now a Holiday In Venezuela, Thanks to the Energy Crisis

Maduro's big plan to save energy could be backfiring. The Associated Press reported that many people have been "going home to watch TV and run the air conditioning, leading critics to say the furlough is not an effective energy-saving measure."

Maduro said that water levels at the nation's hydroelectric dams have plummeted to dangerously low levels amid the worst drought in nearly 50 years.

Last week, the government also announced its plans to ration power for about four hours a day in 18 of 24 states. "It's necessary," Electricity Minister Luis Motta Dominguez said. "It's a sacrifice."

Those cuts will last 40 days, or until water levels stabilize at the Guri Dam, which provides the majority of Venezuela's electricity. Caracas was spared the power cuts. But over the weekend, residents of El Calvario, a poor area on the outskirts of the capital, protested after they were reportedly left without power for 29 hours. The AP reported that some Venezuelans say the country is beginning to represent the dystopia portrayed in The Hunger Games, where the nation's outer districts suffer to benefit the capital city.

Some have taken to Twitter to express their anger, using the hashtag #MaduroEsOscuridad, which means "Maduro is darkness."

Drought and low water levels at national dams are not a uniquely Venezuelan problem. What sets Venezuela apart, however, is its over reliance on hydroelectricity. When California's reservoirs began bottoming out, for example, the state turned to natural gas turbines and other avenues for electricity production.

The power outages have exacerbated Venezuela's already grave economic crisis. In 2014, country went into a recession that was compounded by sharply falling oil prices.

While Maduro has blamed the weather phenomenon El Nino for the electricity shortages, critics of his government say he mismanaged the entire situation, failed to develop backup energy sources, and invested poorly. Opposition politicians are currently collecting signatures and attempting to begin a process aiming to oust Maduro from office by the end of the year.

Related: Venezuela's Opposition Can't Pick a Strategy to Oust the President, So It's Trying Three

Follow Tess Owen on Twitter: @misstessowen

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