Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Showering With Hugo

Tyranny: In his latest absurdity, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez is dictating three-minute showers and no singing. Claiming it's to save water, his act is nothing but a "green" fig leaf to cover his socialist mismanagement.
'Some people sing in the shower, in the shower half an hour," Chavez ranted on his Sunday TV show "Alo Presidente." "No, kids. Three minutes is more than enough. I've counted, three minutes and I don't stink." His words echo those of environmental extremists, blaming shopping malls, El Nino, tourists and sabotage. But the water and electricity shortages are his own doing, and the scope of the crisis signals the systemic shortages of socialism.
There shouldn't be any shortages at all. Green, jungly Venezuela, with some of the world's most spectacular waterfalls, also boasts some of the best hydroelectric capacity in all Latin America.
In 1990, the fast-moving Caroni river created more hydroelectric power than in all of Brazil, home of the mighty Amazon. Today, one of Caroni's six big dams that supply 70% of Venezuela's electricity, the Guri, sits idle. And the others are stressed.
Yes, El Nino has lowered water levels. But the crisis has happened before, in 2002, and Chavez assumed control of five water companies a decade ago. With $600 billion in state oil earnings since, he's had the money to make badly needed investments.
In 2003, his government budgeted $500 million a year for investments to prevent a new crisis. Instead of spending it, Chavez politicized the work force and handed some water distribution over to community organizers. Price controls in 2003 cut revenues to just 80% of water company costs. Maintenance was neglected, leaving broken mains that now waste 62% of water produced .
"Conservation" it's not. The result is that 92% of Venezuelans have running water, but often get just air from their faucets. For the poor, it means buying water off tanker trucks at high prices in shantytowns.
According to Venezuelan newspaper Tal Cual, state engineers warned Chavez in 2002 that unless needed investments were made, the system would crash by 2009 or 2010. It's right on schedule.
Electricity is an even bigger nightmare. Chavez nationalized an electricity company in 2007 and this year Venezuela had five major blackouts and much labor strife over state-dictated wages and safety standards. It's affecting the pumps that supply water and heat.
Chavez' environmental correctness is a cover for state failure. He controls the economy and is its biggest squanderer of resources.
Unaccountable to anyone, he orders citizens to pay for it. They do so not through higher prices, but through coercive means like rationing. What's next, Chavista shower police, patrolling for long showers and aquatic caterwauling?