Venezuela’s public workers will only work on Mondays and Tuesdays as the country falls deeper into crisis.
Venezuela seems to be inches away from a complete crisis. With a crumbling economy, corrupt politicians and a decaying infrastructure, the country has few back-up plans. But there’s a fine irony for the country with the biggest proven oil resources to undergo an electricity crisis. Revenue from petroleum exports accounts for more than 50% of the country’s GDP and roughly 95% of total exports, most of which go to the United States. But falling oil prices, coupled with a general incompetence or inability to manage the country’s resources and potential have sent them on the brink of collapse. President Nicolas Maduro announced Tuesday that the government was slashing working hours for at least two weeks, in a desperate bid to deal with the country’s lack of electricity.
It’s not as if this move came from nowhere. Power shortages have been a part of the life of Venezuelans for years. First, President Nicolas Maduro shut down the country for a week in March. Then, he made Friday an official holiday and implemented the four-day work week, again to save power. Earlier this month, the president asked women to stop using hairdryers, saving them only for “special occasions.” He also asked citizens to hang their clothes instead of using dryers and to embrace the heat Rations were introduced in several supermarkets.
“It’s not just electricity; it’s the whole infrastructure of the country that’s crumbling.” says Jean Daudelin, a professor of development and conflict at Carleton University. “It’s the road systems, it’s the ports, it’s the water, it’s everything.”
The country’s economic situation can be explained by a chain of unfortunate decisions. Under Hugo Chavez, the country reduced poverty from 50% to 30% (today’s levels are between 75 and 80 percent, with a drastic inflation). When the price of oil was rising, the country made a big profit but time after time failed to invest that profit into something more sustainable and reliable. They did invest in the food industry and health, but the bulk of that money went into subsidizing oil. Gasoline could be bought for mere cents on the gallon—the cheapest price in the world, and Venezuela consumed much more energy than its neighbors. It seemed the country was living a golden age, but things changed quickly.
Failing to invest in basic electricity production, the country was still stuck paying $12.5 billion in fuel subsidies alone. Because of the unstable political environment, no one really wanted to reduce these subsidies even though they clearly weren’t paying off. Further inability to develop alternative energy sources coupled with a drought (reducing hydro-electricity production) led to the situation we see today.
Power outages may be a chronic problem in Venezuela, but implementing a 2-day work week to save power is something I wouldn’t expect to happen in 2016… or ever.