Maduro tries to save daylight in Venezuela power play | Americas| North and South American news impacting on Europe | DW | 01.05.2016
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Maduro tries to save daylight in Venezuela power play

It's a new time in Venezuela. On Sunday, the clocks in the South American country were brought forward to save electricity. The switch to daylight saving time could be a harbinger of political change.

Over the past several days, more than 1.5 million Venezuelans have signed a petition for a referendum to recall President Nicolas Maduro. Thanks to his mother - who smuggled the petition into the prison where he has been held since 2014 - opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez was also able to sign it.

"I'm full of hope," Lopez has written about the petition. "The signs suggest that change is on the way."

The response to the petition has emboldened the opposition, which also won parliamentary elections in December 2015. This week, the lists of signatures are scheduled to be put before the national electoral council for inspection. If the council decides that they are sufficient, a referendum can be held to vote Maduro out of office.

Bolivarian counterrevolutionaries

The clock is ticking for the Bolivarian Revolution announced by Maduro's more charismatic presidential predecessor, the now-deceased Hugo Chavez, after his election in 1998. Seventeen and a half years on, Venezuela - the country with the biggest oil reserves in the world - is economically and politically on the brink.

In an April 22 opinion piece for the Latin American edition of the Spanish daily El Pais, the communications professor Isaac Nahon Serfaty called the Chavista government a "horror show." Serfaty wrote that the regime had no respect for the law or institutional integrity.

The professor is one of the up to 1.5 million Venezuelans who have left the country since Chavez's United Socialist Party of Venezuela came to power back in the 1990s. Serfaty no longer teaches at the Catholic Andres Bello National University in Caracas, but at the University of Ottawa in Canada.

Deficiencies and mismanagement

Venezuela lacks so much because almost all of the products it needs have to be imported from abroad. And that has just gotten worse since oil prices started dropping. The government no longer has sufficient foreign currency to ensure that Venezuelans are provided with basic supplies.

In the future, Venezuelans will even have to do without their beloved national beer. On Friday, the country's biggest brewery, Empresas Polar, stopped production. In a public statement, the company accused the Central Bank in Caracas of refusing to release the necessary foreign currency to import barley malt.

A letter written by the British banknote printer De La Rue to Venezuela's central bank in mid-April revealed just how serious the situation is. The letter, which found its way into the public domain, was a reminder concerning unpaid invoices that now total $71 million (80 million euros).

Venezuela needs huge quantities of banknotes. With inflation predicted to hit 700 percent this year, the bolivar is depreciating faster than any currency in the world. Now, Venezuela will be the first country in the world with no more money to print more money.

And there's more. Venezuela's 30 million inhabitants are sitting in the dark as the result of a chronic shortage of power. The reservoir level at the biggest hydroelectricity station, Simon Bolivar, is dangerously low and sinking, meaning that electricity supplies are at the point of collapse.

Consequently, there are regular power cuts and drastic energy-saving measures. In 10 of the 24 Venezuelan states, the electricity is being switched off for several hours a day. The civil service is only working two days a week, and there is no school on Fridays.

Venezuela Bier Polar

Venezuelans get an extra half hour of daylight but have lost the national brew to wash it down

'Total failure'

The author Rodrigo Blanco Calderon sees the power cuts as proof that the Chavez and Maduro governments have been negligent. But, Blanco told DW, "they knew how to make use of their negligence."

Blanco called Venezuela's rolling blackouts "the visible symptom of the total failure of so-called Bolivarian Socialism in the 21st century." He wrote about the dark times his country is going through in the aptly titled novel "The Night."

To make its nights a little shorter, Venezuela set its clocks forward half an hour on Sunday, but the move is unlikely to make much difference. The countdown for the end of the political era of Bolivarian Socialism has begun; the last Venezuelan to leave won't even have to turn off the lights.