LATIN AMERICA

Venezuela changes time zone as energy crisis worsens

Move by President Maduro comes after introduction of four-day working week for government employees

"No electricity" reads a sign in a closed shop in Caracas.
"No electricity" reads a sign in a closed shop in Caracas.AFP

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Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has announced his country is once again changing its time zone, as a severe drought reduces power output by lowering water levels at hydroelectric dams. No details have been given as to whether Venezuela’s clocks will move forward or backward, only that the change will be introduced on May 1.

“We have to adapt at a time of revolution so that [climate] change affects the quality of life and happiness of our people as little as possible,” the president said on Thursday.

Earlier this month, Maduro ordered a four-day working week until the end of May for government employees as part of continued energy-saving measures that saw extended Easter week holidays. On Friday, an extended, five-day national holiday to “reinforce” energy savings begins.

Former President Hugo Chávez put Venezuela  four-and-a-half hours behind GMT in 2007, saying this would allow children to  prepare for school during daylight

Non-government sources reported more than 8,250 power cuts between January and March, while experts predict that the country’s power stations are on the verge of collapse.

In February, Venezuela, one of the biggest oil-producing nations in the world with nearly 300 billion barrels of proven reserves, began importing crude oil to help its staggering economy.

Business leaders have questioned the efficacy of reducing working hours to save energy, saying this simply worsens the country’s long-standing economic crisis. The government blames the electricity shortages on drought caused by the El Niño weather phenomenon, while the opposition has accused President Maduro’s administration of mismanaging the national grid.

Almost 70 percent of the South American country’s electricity comes from hydro power, and officials have been warning for weeks that the water level behind the nation’s largest dam has fallen to near its minimum operating level. If the government had to shut down the dam, electricity supply would be crippled.

Former President Hugo Chávez put Venezuela four-and-a-half hours behind Greenwich Mean Time in 2007, saying this would allow children to sleep later and prepare for school during daylight. Venezuela is near the equator so daylight varies little by season.

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English version by Nick Lyne

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