The Associated Press March 22, 2010, 6:23PM ET

Venezuela cuts power to 'heavy' electricity users

Dozens of hotels, restaurants, office buildings and other businesses went dark Monday after failing to meet a government target of reducing electricity usage by 20 percent amid a deepening energy crisis.

Caracas' state electrical utility announced that it shut off supply to 42 businesses for 24 hours to punish users that have not cut usage enough as required under government measures adopted last month.

Hotels warned guests to leave ahead of time, and restaurants were deserted and dark. Some business owners said they have done their best to conserve, and called the daylong blackout abusive.

President Hugo Chavez blames Venezuela's energy shortages on a drought that has pushed the country's main hydroelectric dam to critically low levels. Critics argue the government has for years failed to invest enough in the electrical sector amid rising demand.

"They are punishing those who are not to blame. The government is to blame," said Esteban Hofle, who manages a small department store that is on a list of businesses to have power shut off next.

State-run Bolivarian News Agency reported that authorities will turn out the lights for a total of 96 "heavy consumers" in Caracas.

The government has also imposed other rationing measures such as rolling blackouts in some parts of the country.

Guillermo Ovalles, who heads an electrical committee for Venezuela's largest business chamber, Fedecamaras, called the punitive measures unfair. He said many businesses are already struggling because they have had to reduce hours and turn off air conditioners due to the energy shortage.


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