Maduro Changes Time Zone to Battle Venezuela Power Crisis

  • Drought cuts Guri hydroelectric dam water-level to record low
  • Order reverses shift instituted in 2007 by Hugo Chavez

The Catia slum in Caracas.

Photographer: Meridith Kohut/Bloomberg

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro stepped up measures aimed at reducing electricity consumption in a bid to stave off a full blown crisis including scrapping a change to the nation’s time zone that had last been altered by his predecessor, Hugo Chavez in 2007.

Faced with a prolonged drought pushing his country’s spotty electric grid to the point of collapse, Maduro also ordered Monday, April 18, a holiday and said he will further curtail power use by shopping malls. Water levels at the country’s largest hydroelectric dam, which services nearly 75 percent of the power to the capital, Caracas, and its 3 million inhabitants, is dropping to record lows.

“I’m going to modify the time zone in Venezuela starting on May 1 to help save electricity,” Maduro said in a national address on Thursday. “I’ll explain this measure in the coming days, but it’s part of the same objective: to overcome this situation.”

On Friday, Vice President Jorge Arreaza specified that Venezuela would reset its clocks, moving forward a half hour to the GMT -4 zone. In December 2007, former President Chavez decried time zones as an “imperialist” creation, and rolled back the time zone by 30 minutes to ease daily predawn commutes for school children and the poor.

The threat of prolonged blackouts in Caracas as well as water rationing is adding to the hardships of Venezuelans who were already accustomed to standing in long lines to buy basic goods due to shortages, triple-digit inflation and the nation’s deepest recession in more than a decade as a collapse in oil revenue saps government coffers.

Before making Monday a non-working day, Maduro had already decreed Fridays as holidays for state workers through May as part of plans to save power and follows a forced week-long break over the Easter holiday last month. Maduro said those efforts saved almost 22 centimeters of water at the Guri dam in the southern state of Bolivar.

If water levels at the dam fall below 240 meters above sea level, the government may have to shut down the plant to avoid damaging turbines -- a move that would inevitably lead to increased rationing. According to the latest official figures, the level currently stands at about 243 meters.

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