Government employees in Venezuela will now be forced to take five-day weekends as the country takes desperate measures to not run out of electricity.
While a two-day work week may sound like a dream to some, the situation in Venezuela is quickly becoming nightmarish.
The socialist-run nation has been struggling with power shortages for several months as a drought caused by El Nino, coupled with the government's poor management of its electricity grid, have led to sustained blackouts across the country.
Now Venezuela is close to complete shutdown. On Tuesday, the nation’s top two government officials asked hundreds of thousands of public servants to stay home on Wednesdays and Thursdays starting this week. Government workers already had Fridays off, thanks to a similar energy-savings plan implemented in March.
“We thank you for your support and comprehension,” President Nicolas Maduro said on national TV, shortly after his vice-president announced the new measure. “This will start [Wednesday] and will go on for at least two weeks.”
Maduro had previously asked shopping malls and businesses to cut down on energy use. On April 6, the president even suggested that women should avoid blow-drying their hair to help save electricity.
But all these increasingly desperate measures have been insufficient. This week the government also started to implement four-hour daily rolling blackouts across most of the country. Many Venezuelans are now left wondering if basic food products such as milk will spoil in powerless refrigerators after hours of queueing for groceries at increasingly depleted supermarkets.
The nationwide power cuts, which are expected to last for at least 40 days, have already sparked violent protests in the western state of Zulia, where people looted and built barricades made of burnt rubbish on Monday and Tuesday nights.
On Twitter, which has become an important source of information in Venezuela due to the state’s control over traditional media, people shared pictures of a looted pharmacy, a shopping mall with its windows destroyed and people looting a truck-full of live chickens in Maracaibo, Venezuela’s second largest city.
Bloomberg news, meanwhile, reported the government is running out of money so quickly that it may not even have enough funds to print new bills.
“Further complicating matters is the sheer amount of bills needed for basic transactions. Venezuela’s largest bill, the 100-bolivar note, today barely pays for a loose cigarette at a street kiosk,” wrote Bloomberg’s Andrew Rosati.
With no end in sight to the economic crisis, power shortages, breadlines and medicine shortages, the Venezuelan opposition is renewing its campaign to replace President Maduro.
On Wednesday, opposition parties began to collect signatures for a referendum that would allow Venezuelans to legally remove Maduro from his job. But the road to a referendum is full of obstacles. The rules stipulate that the opposition will have to collect at least 4 million signatures, a hefty sum in the nation of 19.5 million registered voters.
It would also mean launching a successful campaign against a government that controls most national media outlets and the purse strings to social programs that millions of people depend on.
While some analysts have called for a national unity government that will jointly solve the crisis, neither side has shown much interest in working together on economic policy or other urgent matters.
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles, a state governor and former presidential candidate, hopes that maduro will be voted out of office by the end of this year.
“The signatures we are now collecting, are the first step to get rid of corruption and backwardness,” Capriles tweeted. “Maduro is the crisis.”
Manuel Rueda is a correspondent for Fusion, covering Mexico and South America. He travels from donkey festivals, to salsa clubs to steamy places with cartel activity.