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How are Venezuelan businesses coping with the rolling blackouts?
Tovar, a town 86 kilometers southwest of Merida city, went five days without electricity after a transformer failed.
Venezuela relies on hydroelectricity for about 70 percent of its power. That’s why a drought brought on by the climatic phenomenon El Nino has hit it so hard.
Critics say the government has failed to add further generating capacity during its 11 years in power and has not diversified into other forms of power generation as back up.
President Hugo Chavez, however, maintains that the crisis was due to the drought and last week announced the suspension of rationing. He accuses the opposition of taking advantage of the crisis to score points against him. He even alleges sabotage.
“The squalid ones (opposition) are crying now,” he said as he announced the end of rationing. “Let their tears turn into water so that the reservoirs can rise.”
With the World Cup underway and crucial elections parliamentary elections coming up in September, his detractors accuse him of trying to boost his short-term popularity, which has suffered a large dent this year thanks to the crisis and its economic impact.
The Office of Interconnected Systems Operation, the body that oversees the various state companies that make up the national grid, reports that 658.3 MW of generation capacity were added or repaired between January and April of this year to a total capacity of 24,000 MW.
However, Electricity Minister Ali Rodriguez said the government had invested $4 billion dollars in the sector since the crisis and hoped to install 15,000 MW by 2015.
Chavez is “sweeping it all under the carpet because it’s a year with some very important elections,” said Daniel Varnagy, an energy analyst at the Simon Bolivar University. “According to some meteorological predictions 2011 is going to be a much drier year.”
The likelihood is that once the elections are over Venezuelans will have to incorporate rationing into their lives once more, said Varnagy.
But that was a distant concern for customers at the Coromoto. Belkis De Marquez, 38, from Yaracuy state, was on vacation in the mountains and had selected the rose and fig flavor. “This is the second time I’ve been to Merida and I always come here because I heard about the lentil ice cream,” she said. “But I don’t eat it — it’s too strange.”