Power Failures in Venezuela

Venezuelans are used to routine. A computer-generated Venezuelan flag flutters on screen, followed by a ponderous announcement: “This is a broadcast from the Ministry of People’s Power for Communication and Information of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and by the national network of radio and television”. Forget about that baseball game. This is a cadena, or chain, meaning it’s a chained broadcast, every single channel has to show it. (every radio station, too!) As soon as little flag and fanfare come on, wealthier Venezuelans immediately turn to cable TV or Internet. But poorer Venezuelans are stuck. Their airwaves have been hijacked, for who knows how long. A speech by President Hugo Chávez can last anywhere from a few minutes to many hours. System was designed decades ago as a way to ensure timely diffusion of information in case of natural disasters or to broadcast the rare state ceremony. But its use has exploded in Chávez era. Now, several times a week we’re hit with lengthy cadenas, always highly scripted affairs: torrents of propaganda usually in the form of a speech delivered to a handpicked audience of Chávez loyalists. Which is what made cadena broadcast from Venezuela’s industrial heartland, Guayana, past Monday so astonishing. Speaking to a crowd of carefully vetted union supporters, Chávez suddenly found himself on receiving end of some heated demands from steelworkers. The audience had refused to play the role assigned to it by his handlers. Having asked the crowd whether it approved of sterling construction work his government had done on a new steel-tube factory nearby, Chávez was met with a chorus of “noes.” The workers then informed him progress on plant had been at a standstill for some time. Someone had been lying to the big boss. Stunned, Chávez turned to the officials in charge of the plant, telling them in no uncertain terms work had to resume straight away. Although enshrined in the Constitution that Chávez’s supporters drafted in 1999, collective bargaining has been stalled for years throughout Guayana’s cluster of steel, aluminum, mining industries. At SIDOR, the state-owned steel mill whose workers Chávez was addressing, previous collective contract expired 27 months ago. As a Guayana-based labor-relations analyst, Damian Prat, told me Wednesday, this means that wages at plant have effectively been frozen for over 2 years, even as inflation has reached 30%. In effect, as government puts off contract negotiations, these die-hard Chávez supporters have seen value of their salaries cut by almost half. And so, taking advantage of Monday’s cadena, these union leaders demanded, then and there, a resumption of collective bargaining, and under glare of the stage lights Chávez had no choice but to agree. It was the kind of frank give-and-take with the president Venezuelans almost never see. But a half hour or so later, it appears people not vetted to be on stage tried to rush on to discuss things directly with Chávez. Video footage shows a brief commotion, a spike in shouting. Then the sound went dead and the broadcast went off the air altogether. There was feverish speculation about the real reason for the cadena’s abrupt end; the Communication Ministry has remained silent. Now the best information suggests that the power supply simply failed during the broadcast due to a technical failure. Mind you, that in itself is a precious irony since the show was being broadcast from a hydroelectric dam. Watching this rare spectacle, if only for a while, the Venezuelans got to see which kind of power is really failing in our country. (source: Francisco Toro – NYTimes – 24/08/2012) 


Acerca de ignaciocovelo
Consultor Internacional

One Response to Power Failures in Venezuela

  1. Professor Uziel Nogueira says: The major problems affecting Venezuelans on a daily basis – crime, poor public services, crumbling infrastructure and corruption- were not caused primarily by Hugo Chavez. Things only got worse since he introduced his local/native blend of Personality Cult in local politics. Since Chavez came into power 13 years ago, the level of government corruption and incompetence continue alive and well since CAP’s days of early 70s. Compared to other countries in Latin America with similar socio-economic development, Venezuela has one of the most incompetent civil service bureaucracies I’ve seen in my 27 years working for the Inter American Development Bank. The oil sector, created and modeled by the Americans was the only efficient and less corrupted sector of the economy. At the State Department in Foggy Bottom, Venezuela was referred in the past as an ‘oil producing democracy.’ The recent problems in the oil sector, including the huge explosion in PDVSA’s largest oil refinery, indicate a decline of efficiency in that sector as well. The problems of rampant crime, poor public services, crumbling infrastructure and public money being stolen are resistant to ideology or politics in Venezuela. Chavez and the next President that will follow him are temporary while the serious societal problems are permanent.



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