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Venezuela mulls partial state of emergency

Chavez puts Venezuela under 'electricity emergency'
Caracas (AFP) Feb 8, 2010 - Venezuela is facing the worst drought in a century and needs to be placed under an "electricity emergency," President Hugo Chavez said Monday in his new, "any-time" radio program "Suddenly With Chavez." Electricity cuts last month were revoked after a bout of public outrage, but Chavez said the massive Guri Dam hydroelectric complex on the Orinoco River, which supplies 70 percent of Venezuela's power needs, is still falling well below critical levels. "Today it fell another 13 centimeters (five inches). It hasn't rained the whole year; it's Venezuela's worst drought in 100 years," Chavez said on what he called his new "guerrilla by radio" show that will air any time he chooses. "We're ready to declare an electricity emergency, because it really is an emergency," said the president.

He said the decree would make it the government's top priority to seek ways of boosting the country's electric power supply. Chavez did not elaborate, but late last month he announced a special, one billion dollar fund to develop 59 power generating and distributing projects and 50 operating and maintenance projects in the country. Venezuela is flush with oil, the country's chief export, and natural gas, but meets domestic energy demand with electricity generated by its Guri Dam, which on January 31 was at a critical nine meters (30 feet) below normal. The government blames the drought on the cyclical El Nino climate pattern. Chavez' new radio program -- he already has a Sunday radio and television show called "Alo Presidente" (Hello Mr. President) -- will be broadcast, he said, whenever he feels it appropriate.

"It's a new program... guerrilla by radio," Chavez told his listeners. "I recently came up with the idea for the program. We discussed it, we decided and here you have it... it can go out on the air at any time. "Sometimes I'm awake at 3:00 am, working or going over some papers, and if there are people at that time listening to the radio, listening to music or driving on the road... "Suddenly, we'll start singing to a guitar romantic songs," the colorful, populist president said. Besides his "Alo Presidente" weekly show, Chavez also gets full media coverage for any public event he takes part in. Chavez' speeches must be carried, by law, by the nation's major broadcasting outlets. Any infringement is sanctioned with closure, as it happened last month to opposition television RCTV.
by Staff Writers
Caracas, Venezuela (UPI) Feb 9, 2009
Venezuela plans to impose a partial state of emergency to deal with electricity shortages resulting from the worst drought in more than 100 years, President Hugo Chavez announced.

"Venezuela is facing the worst drought in a century and needs to be placed under an electricity emergency," Chavez said in a radio program, Suddenly With Chavez, that is aired at short notice when the president decides to address the nation.

Chavez said the government's position was made difficult by the continuing drought conditions that affected the water levels in the Guri Dam hydroelectric complex reservoir. The reservoir, drawing water from the Orinoco River, is crucial to the regular operation of the hydroelectric plant that supplies 44 percent of Venezuela's power needs,

The government's frequent explanations had little effect on outraged inhabitants of Caracas, who suffered frequent outages in January. Amid growing discontent, the government canceled some power cuts, only to restore them later amid dwindling water supplies to the dam reservoir.

Citing the reservoir's water levels, Chavez told the radio program, "Today it fell another 13 centimeters. It hasn't rained the whole year; it's Venezuela's worst drought in 100 years," Chavez said.

He said the government would now consider imposing an "electricity emergency" but did not specify what the partial state of emergency would entail.

Chavez said the emergency would allow the government to seek ways of boosting electric power supply but did not explain how he intended to achieve the results.

A government project to install 59 power generation and distribution centers and associated projects at a cost of $1 billion has not been outlined in any detail nor a timeframe been announced.

The electricity and power shortages have undercut Chavez's standing and raised the specter of popular discontent leading to electoral setbacks in a September legislative election.

Opposition critics of Chavez said while they recognized the drought caused water reservoir levels to fall they also blamed the government for lack of foresight that denied the power sector timely investment. Corruption and mismanagement have also been cited among causes for the power shortages.

Published media reports said the president's popularity was down to 50 percent -- a 10 percent drop in recent months. The opinion poll results indicated the government's version of events was believed by even fewer people than last year.

There is widespread criticism of the order of priorities applied to power distribution and electricity rationing. Poor planning led to traffic lights being switched off, and hospitals and shopping malls being made to suffer blackouts.

The government argues power rationing is needed urgently to prevent the water reservoir going down to levels that will prevent operation of the hydroelectric project.

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