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Will Chavez's unfulfilled promises affect Sunday's election?

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But polls show that support may be eroding and the outages are a testament to the neglect many Venezuelans consider inexcusable in this major oil-producing state. Violent crime, double-digit inflation, official corruption and persistent food shortages are other factors.

Some of the rolling, intermittent blackouts are still scheduled. But most are no longer announced. They generally last three to four hours a day on average, said Miguel Lara, who ran the power grid until Chavez forced him out in 2004 for being "a political risk."

Jose Aguilar, a U.S.-based consultant with extensive and more recent experience in Venezuela's electrical industry, says it is suffering "a downward spiral of deterioration." Insufficient transmission lines are running so hot that 20,000 distribution transformers burned out last year, he said. "They run them cherry red."

Electrical substations are in a precarious state, Aguilar and Lara said. If one goes offline, others fail. Employees don't even have fuses, said Lara. "They have to cobble together their own to keep things running."

"There's no money to buy parts for something that breaks," said Giovanni Rinaldi, a 15-year employee at a hydroelectric plant in the eastern city of Ciudad Guayana, which he said is plagued by four or five power outages a week despite being in the region that generates more than 70 percent of Venezuela's electricity.

He was fired this week, he said, after posting photos on Twitter of a state utility company vehicle that was used to distribute Maduro campaign posters and other material around town.

"We had put our own money into keeping those vehicles running because the company didn't," Rinaldi, a 40-year-old father of two, said by phone. "It's not right."

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