CARACAS, VENEZUELA —
Venezuelan shopping centers are scaling back hours of operation, causing an uproar among consumers, in the wake of the government's move to reduce their electricity supplies in the early afternoon and evening hours.
Socialist President Nicolas Maduro's government last week said shopping centers would have to generate their own electricity between 1 and 3 p.m. and between 7 and 9 p.m. on weekdays. The measure came amid a drought that has hit hydroelectric generating systems.
Most shopping centers will have to limit service because they do not have power generation capacity, according to the primary industry group that represents malls.
"The measure disrupts the quality of services that for more than a decade [we] have provided to more than 2.5 million Venezuelans who visit us each day," the Venezuelan Chamber of Shopping Centers, Merchants and Associates said in a statement.
At the well-known Caracas mall Sambil on Wednesday, businesses such as clothing shops were preparing to close at 1 p.m., and some escalators had been halted. Banks, movie theaters and the food court remained open.
Electricity Minister Luis Motta said in a televised interview Wednesday that shopping centers have been required since 2011 to install their own generation capacity but that they have not done so. He said he expected the cutback measure would be in effect for three months.
Hefty government subsidies make Venezuela's power the cheapest on the continent, leaving consumers with little incentive to limit power use.
The OPEC nation is struggling with triple-digit inflation, chronic product shortages and a severe recession due to the tumbling price of oil and an unraveling state-led economic model. Maduro blames an "economic war" led by rivals.
Blackouts or limited electricity service are common, especially outside Caracas, the capital. The government often blames blackouts on sabotage, while critics point the finger at a lack of investment and poor management.
The ruling Socialist Party has over the years identified shopping centers as icons of capitalism that promote unfettered consumption. Venezuelans have continued to enjoy trips to the mall, in part because car-dependent cities are built around shopping centers rather than street-level commerce.
Rampant crime also has increased the popularity of malls as many shoppers prefer to avoid walking around on the streets.