CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela’s government has sparked a holiday controversy by hanging Christmas lights in major cities, decorations that many say have no place in a country suffering chronic blackouts.
The adornments introduced by President Nicolas Maduro’s government from November include an illuminated cross atop the mountain that borders the capital Caracas.
The decorations were met with anger following a year of several nationwide power interruptions and a steady decline in service for most citizens.
“It’s pretty, but there are too many lights,” said Elina Montaño, 76, a homemaker, at a Caracas pedestrian promenade, where multicolored lights surrounded a live-action nativity scene. “One sees places that lack power, and here there’s too much.”
Caracas municipal official Carolina Cestari defended the decision to light up 22 public places, including part of the polluted Guaire river.
Cestari said energy consumption was small thanks to power-saving bulbs provided by political ally China, and the lights would provide holiday cheer for poorer families.
Migdalia Teran, 36, a designer who lives in the city of Valencia, said the lights were problematic given the power cuts but added they brought some cheer.
“I’ve always loved Christmas and I want some happiness after so much sadness. I’m one of those people that has seen half their family leave the country,” she said, in reference to migration of some 4.5 million Venezuelans since 2015.
Even some of the critics on social media have noted that shutting off Christmas lights would do little to improve access to electricity.
Venezuela was plunged into darkness in March after a nationwide blackout that Maduro blamed on the United States. Critics say power problems are driven by corruption, mismanagement and under investment.
The capital’s power supplies have largely been restored since then. But blackouts in the provinces continue to interrupt everything from routine commerce to emergency medical procedures.
In the second city of Maracaibo, where electricity is exceptionally precarious, truck driver Jesus Paz complained at a large display of lights at one end of the iconic bridge at the entrance to the city.
“How can they spend all this money lighting up the entrance to the bridge when the rest of the bridge is dark?” asked Paz, 38.
Reporting by Vivian Sequera and Shaylim Valderrama in Caracas, Mariela Nava in Maracaibo, and Tibisay Romero in Valencia, editing by Brian Ellsworth and Jane Wardell