Foreign Policy Blogs

Blackouts in Venezuela – What Gives?

How is it that Venezuela, awash in energy resources, experiences blackouts?

Although it is a global leader in oil production, most of the country’s power comes from hydroelectric dams, including one of the word’s largest, Guri. Unfortunately a combination of drought and failing infrastructure has severely reduced capacity for power-generation. A NYT article gives a nice overview of the situation.

Critics of the Venezuelan government might claim that the power outages are evidence of poor governance and use of public funds.

Personal experience tends to confirm a general neglect of infrastructure and maintenance in Caracas. During my time there, I frequently passed through Parque Cristal, a sparkling, crystalline office building with offices for wealthy businesses and the United Nations. Month after month, however, one of the main escalators remained in disrepair. Our neighborhood went without water for 10-hour periods and yet when it rained the streets flooded due to insufficient drainage.

Chávez may have won a referendum in February allowing him and any other government official to run for office indefinitely, but when he comes up for election in 2012, he does need to win more votes than his competitor (discounting any potential fraud). The current power outages cannot be helping Chávez’s prospects for reelection, since all sectors of society, even his supporters, suffer. Will the public, however, remember their frustrations two years from now?

Then again, when it comes to spending, the United States Congress also finds it easier to pay for new construction rather than repairs. A U.S. PIRG report, released this month, examined earmarks for transportation spending from 2008. It found that, excluding emergency funds after the I-35 bridge collapse in Minnesota two years ago, and despite claims that more than 70,000 U.S. bridges needed some type of repair, “only slightly more than 10 percent of the highway funds allocated for [Congressional] “member projects” in that year’s appropriations bill went to bridge repair or restoration”.

Perhaps it is human nature to seek out what is new and overlook the old? The fashion industry – not to mention our entire consumer-oriented culture – depend on this inclination. And so, when it comes to building, it may be a lot more satisfying to raise a new structure than to maintain one from years past. That is small consolation to Venezuelans. Despite sitting atop millions of barrels of oil, the power outages are likely to continue.


 

Author

David D. Sussman

David D. Sussman is currently a PhD Candidate at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (Tufts University), in Boston, Massachusetts. Serving as a fellow at the Feinstein International Center, he was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study the lives of Colombian refugees and economic migrants in Caracas, Venezuela. David has worked on a variety of migrant issues that include the health of displaced persons, domestic resettlement of refugees, and structured labor-migration programs. He holds a Masters in International Relations from the Fletcher School, where he studied the integration of Somali and Salvadoran immigrants. David has a B.A. from Dartmouth College and is fluent in Spanish. He has lived in Colombia, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico and Venezuela, and also traveled throughout Latin America. In his free time David enjoys reading up on international news, playing soccer, cooking arepas, and dancing salsa casino. Areas of Focus: Latin America; Migration; Venezuela.

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