Venezuelan Government Declares Temporary State of Emergency in Electricity Sector

Venezuela's government declared a state of emergency in the national electricity system yesterday. It will last for 90 days, and aims to attend to increased demand and protect electricity infrastructure from sabotage.

By Tamara Pearson

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Venezuelans pay around 12Bs per month for residential electricity bills (archive).
Venezuelans pay around 12Bs per month for residential electricity bills (archive).
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Merida, April 24th 2013 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuela's government declared a state of emergency in the national electricity system yesterday. It will last for 90 days, and aims to attend to increased demand and protect electricity infrastructure from sabotage.

The state of emergency was printed in Monday’s Official Gazette, where it is stated that the National Bolivarian Armed Forces will be active in the “control and functioning of areas that make up the electricity system” and that these areas are now “security zones”.

“We won’t militarise [the electricity sector] in the sense of an arbitrary force, but rather we will be complying with what the constitution establishes, collaborating with and contributing to national development,” Wilmer Barrientos, head of the operational strategic command of the armed forces said.

During the election campaign leading up to the 14 April presidential elections, there were a number of blackouts, usually lasting 1 to 2 hours, in various parts of the country. The government blamed opposition sabotage of electricity infrastructure, at one point providing photos of people being allegedly caught “red handed”.

According to President Nicolas Maduro, so far almost 50 people, “all linked to the rightwing, members of right wing political parties”, have been detained for alleged sabotage.

However, for years Venezuela has also suffered minor electricity problems, as the higher demand (due to greater consumption and increased access to electricity) sometimes meets the grid’s supply ability. The government has responded to the situation by buying more thermo-electric generators and carrying out an awareness raising campaign regarding energy wastage, including fines or discounts for commercial and residential buildings which overuse or manage to reduce usage.

Yesterday the minister for energy, Jesse Chacon said now, “I refuse to import [electrical]  transformers from Colombia, we can produce them here, we have that capacity”.

He also said there was a large difference between the cost of generating and transmitting electricity and Corpoelec’s income, and “it’s the larger consumers, the large shopping centres who generate the largest loss to the system”.

“There are [Corpoelec representatives] who instead of working for the company, do business with them, and as a result there are shopping centres which pay residential electricity rates,” he said.

Yesterday however, the Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV) demanded “complete change” in the management of Venezuela’s national electricity company, Corpoelec, arguing that they were the “most responsible for the electricity problems the country has been facing”, and that workers should “participate in the management of institutions”.

According to El Nacional, Angel Nava, president of the union Fetraelec, also called for a change in management of the state company.

Then, this afternoon, the president of Corpoelec, Argenis Chavez, resigned. He had been president for 1.5 years, and said the renunciation was to “facilitate the process of change that the national electrical sector should go through”.

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