Power Shortages Become a Hot Topic in Venezuela's Presidential Race

"After they nationalized the electricity sector, the plants and lines were ignored and they let it deteriorate. This has been a huge problem," said Cardozo, who teaches political science at Venezuela's Central University.

Although the government's motives for the nationalization was to freeze energy rates for the poor, inflation grew in subsequent years by 15 to 35 percent. Despite the inflation, the government refused to hike up electricity rates which resulted in the state run energy company Corpolec being short on funds to construct and repair new power lines.

Since Chavez's election in 1998, Venezuela's shantytowns have seen a surge in electrical usage as a result of reduced poverty rates and high oil prices that have let the government spend lavishly on social programs. Satellite dishes adorn most of the rooftops of shantytown homes nowadays, while many residents take their electricity illegally through rustic cables attached to public lamps and power lines.

Meanwhile a new public housing program that in just two years has built over 200,000 apartments across the country has put additional stress on the nation's energy grid.

"They did not conduct studies to see how much electricity these buildings were going to use. They just build it without taking into consideration how much energy it was going to take away from other residents in the area," said Beatriz Olivo, the energy specialist.

Venezuela's socialist government however, has been very careful not to let these blackouts affect Caracas, Venezuela's largest city, where 20 percent of the country's population lives.

"It has the biggest concentration of people. It is the capital where all the media is concentrated. If the light fails there that could lead to political consequences even among Chavez supporters," said Ennio Cardozo

But the priority that Caracas gets in receiving power from the government has come at the expense of the other states in the country. According to Raul Perez a taxi driver from Barinas, these electrical blackouts have created chaos in peoples' daily lives.

"The food gets spoiled, the air condition doesn't work which means kids can't go to school, while the water stops. But in the end people get used to it and it becomes routine."

In recent years the government has started buying power from neighboring Colombia to help back up its antiquated grid. Nicolas Maduro in recent speeches has also signaled his intentions to explore using natural gas.

Maduro is most likely to beat Capriles in Sunday's elections. But he will need to solve this electricity problem if he wants to secure voters' support in future contests.

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