CARACAS – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez decreed an “electrical emergency in the country” after noting that the water levels at the dams where hydroelectric plants are located “continue to fall, approaching critical levels” due to an ongoing drought.
In a sign of the seriousness of the situation, the leftist head of state decided not attend Tuesday’s special summit of the Union of South American Nations in Quito, a meeting called to coordinate aid for earthquake-stricken Haiti.
Chavez announced the signing of an emergency decree when he kicked off his new radio program on Monday, a communications initiative in addition to his long-standing weekly radio and television program.
The emergency decree, he emphasized, will permit the government to transfer and reallocate resources initially destined for other sectors.
“I’m making a call to the whole country (to save power). We’re experiencing the biggest drought that Venezuela has had in almost 100 years,” Chavez said after Energy Minister Ali Rodriguez announced that investments of $4 billion would be required this year to generate an additional 4 gigawatts of electricity.
Rodriguez said on the weekend that the country this year had saved just 4 percent of its energy with the rationing that has prevailed since the beginning of the year, quite a bit below the target of 20 percent that had been set.
The government blames the situation on an ongoing drought that has depleted the reservoir at the massive El Guri dam in western Venezuela, which generates 70 percent of the country’s electricity.
The power rationing plan has entailed programmed blackouts of up to four hours, and while the practice continues throughout most of Venezuela, Chavez suspended rationing in Caracas after one day, adopting an alternative conservation initiative.
The anti-Chavez opposition has complained that the crisis is the consequence of improvisation and lack of investments in infrastructure.
Chavez on the weekend emphasized the Cuban, Argentine and Brazilian cooperation that his government is receiving to confront the crisis, efforts that in recent days brought to Venezuela Argentine Planning Minister Julio de Vido and Cuba’s computer science minister, Ramiro Valdes.
“They made a big commotion because a Cuban commission came to work together with our experts on the electricity issue ... They say that this is betraying the fatherland, interference by the Fidelist empire in Venezuela. That is collaboration, that is cooperation,” said Chavez regarding Valdes’s presence.
The Venezuelan minister in the sector, in turn, emphasized the “solidarity” shown by Cuba, Brazil and Argentina, but also by Russia, China and even the United States.
Cuba, he said, “has a lot of experience in the area of energy savings and efficiency,” he said.
Regarding Brazil, Rodriguez said that experts from that country “are renovating the turbines” at the El Guri dam, and that Argentina had made contribution to help “take advantage” of the hydroelectric potential of the fast-flowing Rio Caroni.
Meanwhile, Russia and China – he said – will provide thermoelectric plants that will supply the country’s basic industries, while “U.S. manufacturers ... will install electricity generators,” although he did not go into detail on that subject. EFE