Remaking Venezuela, Chavez Resets Nation's Clocks

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Sunday, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez rolled his country's clocks back by 30 minutes, in a move he says will give early-rising schoolchildren more daylight. The change is the latest in Chavez's efforts to revamp the country, which he has renamed the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Chavez also redesigned the flag; he is set to launch a new currency next year.


Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez has changed the country's official name to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. It's a nod to Simon Bolivar, the revolutionary. He's redesigned the flag and he's set to launch a new currency next year. As part of his drive to revolutionize the country, he has also now changed the time. Venezuelans turned their clocks back this weekend by half an hour.

From Caracas, NPR's Julie McCarthy reports.

JULIE McCARTHY: The time change puts Venezuela permanently four and a half hours behind Greenwich Mean Time - the only place in the Americas outside of Canada's Newfoundland with a half-hour system. Venezuela is now just a half-hour ahead of Washington. Attorney James Rodner(ph) says the change also moves it a half-hour closer to the country that President Chavez has been quarrelling with of late - Colombia.

Mr. JAMES RODNER (Attorney): As a Venezuelan, of course, that worries me because the Colombians would like to be a half an hour closer to Venezuela by moving the border over, as they did back in 1936 to '37, which I hope they won't take advantage of this opportunity to do that.

McCARTHY: President Chavez says the change will improve health and productivity because as the nation falls back, it insures that everyone gets off to work or school in daylight. Artist Carlos Hermoso(ph) says more daylight is no guarantee for anything.

Mr. CARLOS HERMOSO (Artist): (Spanish spoken)

McCARTHY: How is it that countries that don't have a lot of light like Scandinavia are so advanced? This isn't logical, he says. It's capricious. It doesn't make anything better, he says. Hermoso says it may even aggravate Caracas's already spiraling crime. He says now that it will get darker earlier, citizens are more vulnerable than ever. Comedian and writer Laureano Marquez says the government pushed the clocks back 30 minutes as a clever ruse to give chronically late Venezuelans a chance to be on time and to annoy much of the rest of the world with its offset time zone.

Mr. LAUREANO MARQUEZ (Comedian): Venezuela have a mission. We have to make problems to the world. The world have to say, oh, Venezuela again. Oh, my goodness. I can't believe it. That's our mission in this moment.

McCARTHY: Confusion reigned, if momentarily, over what exactly the time change would mean. Some thought moving the clock so that the sun came up earlier would give them a half-hour more of sleep a night. Others thought their children would have a half-hour more to study a day. Then there were the more existential souls such as street artist Ingrid Aberdeen(ph), who thought it a waste of time to even talk about the change.

Did you changed your clock back a half-hour last night?

Ms. INGRID ABERDEEN (Artist): Who, me?


Ms. ABERDEEN: I don't have a clock. You know, I think no one can change that. That damages the peace of mind.

McCARTHY: The world's second largest country also uses an offset time zone. India is a half-hour ahead of Pakistan and a half-hour behind Bangladesh. Iran is on the half-hour system, as is Afghanistan. The new half-hour time zone in Venezuela actually takes the country back to the time zone it first adopted in 1912.

Critics such as cartoonist Rymas Suprani(ph) called the move sadly appropriate.

Ms. RYMAS SUPRANI (Cartoonist): (Spanish spoken)

McCARTHY: It's not a metaphor, she says. We are moving backwards ideologically, and it isn't the same sensation to put back your clocks as it is to advance them, she says.

Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Caracas.

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