Major blackouts hit Venezuela - again

After three major blackouts in three months, Venezuela says consumers will have to pay surcharges if they don't reduce their usage. Critics, like guest blogger Miguel Octavio, say that the government is placing the blame on others when it should place it on itself.

Isaac Urrutia/Reuters
A child sleeps while her family stands outside their home after a large blackout affected five states in Venezuela, in the western city of Maracaibo on June 11. Widespread blackouts have become a major issue ahead of the 2012 presidential vote when President Hugo Chavez hopes to win re-election, both by creating widespread public aggravation and potentially hindering a fragile economic recovery.

The Venezuelan government continued its attitude of not accepting responsibility for any of the problems of its country, but this time it went from the “Who me?” attitude to simply saying “It’s your fault!” – blaming the electric crisis on excess consumption and not on the inability and incapacity of the administration of President Hugo Chávez to tackle the problems.

The electric problem is not new. Last year, the government blamed El Niño for the crisis, but it quickly became clear that there was more to it, as it became evident that between the lack of maintenance, improvisation, and bad decisions, what was a well-run electrical network when Mr. Chávez took over as president was run into the ground by an ignorant revoution. Despite this, the government declared victory many times over the electrical crisis and blamed problems on sabotage and the weather.

Then, after this weekend’s blackout in Zulia and neighboring states, it was time to shift the blame and put it on “the people.” How irresponsible can you get?

The reality is different. The Chávez administration put a bunch of incompetent loyal military in the electric companies, slowly removing those that knew how to run the system and decide what to invest in and how to do so. Investment and maintenance were postponed, including that of the Guri dam that provides 70 percent of the electricity in the country.

But the crisis goes back to Minister Giordani deciding in 1999 to cancel five hydroelectric projects, a perfectly valid decision, but one that was not followed up by creating an alternate plan. This was followed by requesting the help from Cuban “experts” who went to a distributed system, like that of Cuba, from the interconnected one that Venezuela had (has?). They built power plants but forgot the transmission lines. Back to the 1930s you all!

And while the government blames consumption, which has definitely gone up, it is its actions that have created the current situation. Zulia’s consumption was not particularly high when the blackout took place last week. The five transformers that exploded did not explode because of demand. They exploded at night, when offices are closed, ACs are off in these buildings and also in many stores. It was not “peak” demand. Not even close to it.

But what can you expect from a government that builds power plants that produces more electricity than nearby consumption but fails to build the required power lines to take power elsewhere? Or how about buying power plants for Sidor (Venezuela's state-operated steel maker) last year at the heart of Venezuela’s power consumption, but failing to build power lines to take all of Guri’s power elsewhere?

So now the show is to make the people believe that it is not the Government’s fault. Blame the “companies” or the “big consumers." Impose a penalty on anyone that does not reduce consumption by 10 percent and give discounts to those that do by more than 20 percent.

Funny, these are capitalistic solutions from a government that froze rates 10 years ago, encouraging consumption, and that wants to give away a few million appliances to the “people” that it imported from China. As far as I know they don’t run on solar energy. Yes, making a consumer out of the last Venezuelan is a very desirable goal. But if you do it, you are going to have to generate all of the power required for them. And you better start charging for it.

But none of these connections exist in the Chavista mind. It is the giveaway that matters. The paternalistic, let’s give something for free to the masses so they vote for Hugo, the country be damned.

--- Miguel Octavio, a Venezuelan, is not a fan of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. You can read his blog here.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of Latin America bloggers. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here.

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