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Chavez opposition sees opportunity

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is under pressure thanks to an energy crisis, an opposition activist says.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is under pressure thanks to an energy crisis, an opposition activist says.
  • Lopez: Opposition hopes to tap students, community and union leaders
  • Rolling blackouts have been used to conserve energy amid electricity crisis
  • Combination of situations opens door for opposition candidates, Lopez says
  • Hugo Chavez
  • Venezuela

(CNN) -- An energy crisis in oil-rich Venezuela is putting pressure on President Hugo Chavez and that -- with protests over media regulation and falling oil output -- is opening the door for a possible political shift, an opposition activist said.

"We can win if we present the right candidates, and if we go knowing that this is David against Goliath, because that's what the show for an election in Venezuela (is) going to be," Leopoldo Lopez, a former district mayor of Caracas, Venezuela, told CNN's Christiane Amanpour on Wednesday.

The opposition hopes to take advantage of the pressure facing Chavez by tapping into key constituencies such as students, community leaders and union leaders, Lopez said.

Venezuela is in the midst of an electricity crisis so deep that one of its own government agencies, the National Electric Corporation, warns of a national energy collapse by May if something is not done.

As a result, rolling blackouts have been used to conserve energy. During the past several months, Chavez himself has taken to the airwaves, urging Venezuelans to change their incandescent light bulbs to energy-saving bulbs and to save water by taking three-minute baths. The government also made plans for a possible partial state of emergency.

The electrical crisis exposes years of under-investment in infrastructure and is one of the reasons voters could shift toward the opposition.

But Bernardo Alvarez Herrera, Venezuelan ambassador to the United States, disagreed.

"When you see the situation in Venezuela these days, it's far from being ... the worst situation in the last decade of Venezuela," Alvarez Herrera told Amanpour. "If you talk about economic growth, if you talk about social inequality, if you talk about inflation, employment, et cetera, the situation is not what has been presented."

The reason for the energy shortage, Alvarez Herrera said, is the drought that has created low levels at the country's most important hydroelectric dam.

"Seventy-five percent of electricity come from hydro," he said. "And we need to adjust that. So we are facing a challenge, but not the kind of collapse of crisis that it has been presented."

The government is investing more than $1 billion this year to shore up its electricity-producing capacity.

In addition to the electricity crisis, protests over the suspension of an opposition-leaning cable channel and falling oil output also leave questions about the future of and Chavez's 11-year presidency.

The combination of situations opens the door for opposition candidates in the country, even as Chavez throws his considerable weight around, Lopez said.

Meanwhile, the heated protests and counterprotests between Chavez's detractors and supporters can be a problem in itself, Michael Shifter, vice president of the Inter-American Dialogue, told Amanpour.

"Both sides are at each other, and you can't manage an economy, you can't bring a society together if you have that level of confrontation, and that ... I think, is the core failing of Hugo Chavez," he said.

Shifter continued, "Chavez is popular because he has an emotional bond with a lot of Venezuelans, and he put his finger on a legitimate grievance in Venezuela, inequality and justice. The problem is, he can't solve the problem. He can't deliver results."