Venezuelans have received 2010 with the announcement of an extremely severe power-saving program forcing all shopping malls, bars, restaurants, discos and cinemas to close business several hours a day.
Under the new restrictions imposed by the regime of President Hugo Chavez and which are scheduled to last until next May at least, shopping malls will be open from 11:00 in the morning to 09:00 in the evening and casinos from 18:00 to 24:00 hours.
Infractions to the energy saving program will make users pay a 20% over-charge rate on the first time and 10% for each additional offence. Other sanctions include 24 hours power cuts or 72 hours according to repetition.
Restrictions also include open and street publicity which will now be forced to use neon of lesser amperage.
The Venezuelan Chamber of Shopping malls has requested an immediate interview with the Ministry of Electricity to request a two-hour extension of the new timetable.
A prolonged drought attributed to the El Niño climate phenomenon has left most of Venezuelan hydroelectric plants, which supply 75% of the country's power, with insufficient water reserves limiting generation.
However the opposition claims the power deficit is the direct consequence of lack of planning and the erred investment-policy done by the regime of Chavez during the almost eleven years he has been in office.
Furthermore since 2004, power rates have been frozen with little incentive to save power.
The government target is to reduce power consumption by 20% compared to the same period a year ago, if not blackouts are not discarded.
Venezuelans fear that with the power saving will also mean less working hours and possibly less jobs.