Venezuela malls scale back hours as government cuts energy

By the Associated Press | February 10, 2016 | 4:05 PM EST

FILE - In this April 10, 2014, file photo, people ride the nearly empty escalators inside Sambil mall, in Caracas, Venezuela. Shopping malls across Venezuela are preparing to dramatically reduce their hours to comply with electricity rationing. The South American country’s socialist government ordered more than a hundred shopping malls to begin rationing energy to just four hours a day, starting Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano, File)

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Shops in malls across Venezuela closed their doors Wednesday afternoon to comply with a government electricity rationing order.

Venezuela's socialist government is asking more than 100 malls to close or generate their own power four hours each day, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. and from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Dozens of mall workers and would-be shoppers waited out the closure at a shopping center in upscale Caracas Wednesday. They complained about the new policy, which comes amid a general economic breakdown that has led to chronic shortages and triple-digit inflation.

"I need my salary," fast food restaurant manager Yorgenis Tovar said. "I can't let myself become unemployed at this point, with everything getting so expensive."

Officials say the measure will help the economically embattled country cope with problems at hydroelectric plants due to a severe drought caused by the El Nino weather phenomenon

Malls have become a haven for Venezuelans as the country has become one of the most violent in the world. In many areas, they are also the only places to see movies.

Venezuela has grappled with blackouts for years, including one that took President Nicolas Maduro by surprise as he delivered a national address on live television. Caracas occasionally shuts down because of citywide loss of power and rural areas see regular rolling blackouts.

Electricity here is virtually free, giving Venezuelans little incentive to conserve.

The government tried a similar policy in 2010, but rolled it back after patrons put up stiff resistance. This time, many shoppers seem resigned.

"Nothing about this surprises me," teacher Rosa Velasquez said. "Every day now something happens to make life here worse."