CARACAS - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on Thursday power rationing would be imposed on 15 shopping malls whose owners had failed to install electricity generators despite a severe drought.
Many of the South American OPEC nation's 29 million people are already suffering daily, unscheduled water and electricity cuts as levels recede at the Guri dam complex providing nearly two-thirds of power needs.
"There are big private consumers, some malls, whom we gave five years to get their generators, and they don't have them ... and they are earning plenty of money," Maduro said, referring to measures taken after a 2010 drought.
"The time has come to take a drastic rationing measure against a group of about 15 malls who did not obey the law and are consuming without conscience at a critical moment due to the 'El Nino' phenomenon."
The socialist government says the El Nino weather pattern is to blame for Venezuela's water and power problems. But critics insist the state is also responsible for inadequate preparation, investment and diversification of electricity sources.
In a further bid to save energy, Maduro also decreed Monday a holiday, on top of a Tuesday national anniversary.
The president has also given public workers Fridays off, and raised eyebrows by urging women to cut usage of hair dryers.
The power problems have added to suffering from a deep recession, the world's highest inflation, shortages of basic goods, and lengthy lines at shops around the nation.