Venezuelans are getting a three-day weekend every week for the next two months, but they aren’t as excited as you might expect. The measure doesn’t signal a burst of employer generosity, but an encroaching energy crisis resulting from an extended drought. Sixty per cent of the country’s electricity is derived from hydroelectric stations, which, of course, rely on water to keep them afloat.
Low water levels at hydroelectric dams can damage the turbines that help generate power, so if levels sink too low, the Venezuelan government might have to shut off the dams. Water levels currently teeter on the edge of what’s considered critical: at the Guri Dam, a level of about 787 feet above sea level would trigger a shutdown. When the three-day weekend plan was announced, the water level hovered at about 797 feet.
Drought propelled by El Niño isn’t the only factor in Venezuela’s energy crisis. Some say the country has failed to maintain and invest enough in its energy infrastructure, and many Venezuelans have long grappled with blackouts.
In a televised program, President Nicolás Maduro announced his plan to avoid energy shortages. He did not increase utility rates or ask private homes to ration electricity. While he did not clarify whether the three-day weekend applied to everyone or just those working in the public sector, details of his 60-day plan will be released this week.
Maduro’s critics claim three-day weekends will hurt the already limping economy. The country, which is in the middle of its worst recession in 70 years, has faced not only power shortages but shortages of medicine and food. Jesús Armas, city councilor in Venezuela’s capital Caracas, said, “For Maduro the best way to resolve this crisis is to reduce the country’s productivity. Fridays are free bread and circus.”