Week In Short Supply

by Piper French & Corey Hebert

published April 15, 2016

Blowing it Off

Venezuela is currently experiencing one of the worst energy crises in recent history. Though the South American nation possesses the largest oil reserves in the entire world, it sources nearly three-quarters of its electricity from hydroelectric power plants, which are being hit hard by a prolonged drought caused by El Niño. 

With the drought showing no signs of letting up, and water levels at the plants at an all-time low, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has come up with a novel solution to the energy shortage: ask women to stop blow drying their hair. The presidetnt framed this as an aesthetic preference: “I always think a woman looks better when she just runs her fingers through her hair and lets it dry naturally.” He added that at the very least, women could consider reducing their hairdryer use to “special occasions.” “It’s just an idea I have,” he added modestly. 

To many frustrated Venezuelans, Maduro is barely more qualified to be running the country than dispensing beauty advice. Since he took office following Hugo Chavez’s death in 2013, the country has been rocked by political turmoil, including widespread protests against his administration throughout 2014. The country is no stranger to unexpected losses of electricity–one ostensibly partisan blackout even caught Maduro during a national address on live television. And energy levels aren’t the only thing in crisis in Venezuela: already weak during the Chavez years, the economy’s gone even further down the tubes, shrinking 10% last year alone. Furthermore, infrastructure is crumbling, violence is high, and basic goods are often hard to come by. 

Given all this, it’s unsurprising that Maduro’s latest “solution” to the energy shortage has been met with derision. “If the President thinks that not blow drying our hair is going to help, then the problem is far worse than we thought,” one woman told Al Jazeera. To be fair, though, President Maduro’s energy-saving tips weren’t limited to ladies with long hair—he also suggested that Venezuelans cut down on their use of air conditioners and clothes dryers and make sure to unplug devices when not in use. “Dryers use a lot of electricity,” he said, adding, “Irons, too. We need to create awareness about that.” 

Raising electricity prices seems to be the only response to the crisis totally beyond consideration. Maduro most recently announced that every Friday for the next two months would be a government holiday in the public sector. “We’ll have long weekends,” he promised the nation. One thing the president may not have considered: Longer weekends = more time to go out = more demand for blow dryers…on the other hand, if the energy crisis continues long enough, there may be no point in putting effort into one’s hair at all—the room will be too dark to notice.



Más Beer, Por Favor

Where Americans go in large numbers, beer must follow. It is a well-known fact that your average warm-blooded American traveler likes to get wrecked on the beach after 5 or 10 cold brews. In Cuba of late, the American penchant for booze-laden vacations has even become a source of economic imbalance. Now that the end of the embargo has given rise to vast increases in U.S. tourism to the island, state-owned bars are struggling to keep up with demand for beer. 

Bucanero brewery, a joint venture between the Cuban government and Anheuser-Busch InBev, is the largest supplier of beer on the island. It supplies all of the state-owned bars, cafés, and restaurants with the amber nectar that tourists desire, but recently it has had to compete with a growing number of private bars. No, Cuba does not have micro brews or IPA—yet. According to the Guardian, since “president Raul Castro five years ago formalized changes designed to remove the Communist state from many small-scale economic activities,” private bars and restaurants have popped up left and right. Unlike state-owned establishments, private restaurants and bars can get alcohol from anywhere, whereas state bars have to source their beer from the government. 

This past year, Cuba saw 77 percent more American tourists than in 2014, or 161,000 Americans in total. Rates are projected to climb even higher in coming years, which means Bucanero is going to have to start pulling its weight to keep up with the thirsty American tourists flooding its shores. This year alone, Bucanero had to import 3 million cases of cerveza from Dominica—which ranks fourth in the world in terms of alcohol consumption per capita—in order to satisfy our eager compatriots. Word on the street is that Havana has plans for a new Bucanero brewery in the works.

Many American tourists claim they want to make it to Cuba before the island nation becomes overly commercialized and loses its charm. However, they fail to acknowledge that by going there, getting trashed on Cristal, and blowing chunks in an alley in Old Havana, they are driving that process. Is the logical next step a Starbucks in Plaza Vieja? A McDonalds under the Che mural? The power of the American dollar knows no bounds, especially in its search for ice cold beer.