Cuckoo clocks? Venezuela shifting time hoping to save energy

Venezuela's government is changing the clock again as part of its efforts to stave off an electricity crisis.

The move comes nine years after former President Hugo Chavez created Venezuela's own, unique time zone in a stroke of anti-imperialist independence.

People walk down a dark street, holding candles as they pass closed shops and offices, during a Holy Week procession in eastern Caracas, Venezuela.
Meridith Kohut | Bloomberg | Getty Images

President Nicolas Maduro said Thursday that the new change will take effect May 1. He didn't provide details about how much or in what direction the clocks would move, saying only that it's an additional emergency measure to prevent power outages as a severe drought reduces power output by lowering water levels at hydroelectric dams. As part of the energy-saving drive, he also declared Monday a public holiday.

"It's a very simple measure that represents an important savings," Maduro said about the shift in the time zone.

The move follows Maduro's decision requiring cinemas to close early and shopping centers to generate their own electricity and his call for women to ease up on hair blowers in a bid to reduce energy consumption by 20 percent.

More controversially, he has also started giving state employees Fridays off. The surprise furlough for Monday means that as of Tuesday, when Venezuelans celebrate independence day, 17 of the last 31 calendar days will have been non-work days for many Venezuelans. Maduro gave workers off the three days leading up to the Easter holiday last month.

Not everyone is celebrating the extra time off.

Opponents of the socialist leader say electricity rationing could have been prevented had the government invested in maintenance and in the construction of thermoelectric plants.

Almost 70 percent of the South American country's electricity comes from hydro power, and officials have been warning for weeks that the water level behind the nation's largest dam has fallen to near its minimum operating level. If the government had to shut down the dam, electricity supply would be crippled.

When Chavez in 2007 put Venezuela 4½ hours behind Greenwich Mean Time, he said it would allow children to sleep in and prepare for school during daylight. Venezuela is near the equator so daylight varies little by season.

Some supporters suggested Chavez also wanted to take further distance from Washington, which during daylight saving time shared the same time zone.

A woman walks past empty shelves at a drugstore in Caracas, Venezuela, February 23, 2016.
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