Will Venezuela's two-day workweek help its energy crisis?

As President Nicolas Máduro has introduced aggressive rationing efforts, residents and opposing politicians have increasingly called for his ouster.

Carlos Eduardo Ramirez/Reuters
A girl does her homework by candlelight at home during a power cut in San Cristobal, Venezuela, April 25, 2016. On Tuesday, President Nicolas Máduro said that nearly 2 million government employees would work two-day workweeks in order to conserve power during the country's energy crisis.

Venezuela is embracing an unusual solution to its growing energy crisis: a two-day workweek for government workers.

As the government attempts to tackle the fallout of a long-running drought that has led officials to impose hours-long blackouts, President Nicolás Maduro announced on Tuesday that about two million public workers.

"The public sector will work Monday and Tuesday, while we go through these critical and extreme weeks," Mr. Máduro, a socialist, said on his weekly presidential broadcast, according to Bloomberg.

Venezuelan officials have been working to restore water levels at Guri, the country's giant hydroelectric dam, which is now a "desert," Máduro said, noting that the daily drop in water levels had slowed from 20 centimeters to 10.

As officials desperately hope for rain — "Glory to God! We will overcome!" electricity minister Luis Motta Dominguez tweeted last week as rain hit the Guri dam — many residents and opposing lawmakers have expressed anger at the government's aggressive electricity rationing.

Primary schools will also close on Fridays, and the government has imposed hours-long blackouts that have left dark shopping malls and dwindling food supplies at risk of spoiling in restaurants and markets.

The crisis has served to unite angry Venezuelans and opposing politicians, who blame the energy crisis on the government's mismanagement of the economy, including currency controls introduced by former president Hugo Chávez in 2003, the BBC reports. The Venezuelan economy is suffering as a result of a sharp decline in the price of oil, as well. 

Only hours after the president's announcement, a 12-hour outage Tuesday in the state of Zulia led residents to torch a truck, loot stores, and attack the headquarters of the government power company, Corpolec, Venezuela's El Nacional reports. On Tuesday, Venezuela's electoral counsel allowed opposing lawmakers to begin efforts to recall President Maduro.

The decision to give workers a five-day weekend was preceded by an earlier plan to give most government workers Fridays off during April and May.

Some advocacy groups have advised that occasionally working from home and telecommuting can help reduce workers' carbon footprint, and Utah has tested a four-day workweek of ten-hour days. Venezuela's emergency two-day work week, however, appears to be a more extreme effort to curb the oil-rich country's energy use. 

Venezuela's Guri dam, which has its roots in a 1950s push for hydroelectric power, was hailed as a visionary step when it was completed in 1986. But the project has suffered from years of mismanagement, the Washington Post reports.

"Rainfall is not the main culprit," Venezuelan economist Francisco Monaldi, of Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy, told the Post. "This is a predictable, periodic event," he said, noting that the Chávez government also faced a crisis when a large El Niño weather event hit South America from 2009 to 2010, creating water and electricity shortages. Mr. Chávez died in 2013.

Anger at Máduro’s response to the crisis has assumed a satirical edge online and in the media. Commenters have mocked everything from a proposal for women to stop using hairdryers to save power to suggestions that the four-hour power cuts have led Venezuelans to develop night vision.

"Breakfast is the most important meal of the day only if your kitchen is gas-powered," a mock schedule supposedly created by the Corpolec power company reads on the satirical website El Chigüire Bipolar, "because if it's electric, then breakfast is bad and fattening."

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