Confusion reigns as timelord Chavez turns back clocks in Venezuela

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The Independent US

"Welcome to Caracas and thank you for flying Chavez Air. The time is... (pause, chuckle, clearing of throat)... the time is... We are not quite sure. Please move your watches half an hour forward. Actually, no, sorry, move them half an hour back. Thank you."

So far President Hugo Chavez has not named an airline after himself. This could, however, be the scene on board airliners arriving in the Venezuelan capital next Monday, when, in theory at least, the country will have adopted a new time zone. Whether it will actually happen is still a matter of confused conjecture.

News that Mr Chavez was pondering the time shift first surfaced at the end of August. Only now is he telling his citizens to be ready for the one-off shift on Monday, meaning that they must put their clocks back by 30 minutes at midnight on Sunday.

It is the latest in a flurry of activity by the never- passive president since his re-election last year. In the pursuit of his socialist vision for Venezuela he is rewriting the constitution and nationalising swathes of industry but the clock-changing has some wondering if he has gone cuckoo.

Mr Chavez said on his weekly television show on Wednesday: "I don't care if they call me crazy, the new time will go ahead. I'm not to blame. I received a recommendation and said I liked the idea."

With less than a week's notice and with his brother, the Education Minister, at his side, President Chavez used his appearance to explain to ordinary Venezuelans what they should do. It was a pity then that the two men got in a muddle themselves, saying that clocks had to be moved forward on Sunday night, when in fact they are being moved back. But as people on the streets scratch their heads and businesses scramble to ensure computers and other electronic machinery are ready for the time change, there remains some doubt whether the deadline will be met, because of the country's obligation to co-ordinate with international institutions.

The change in Venezuela's clocks will mean it joining an as exclusive club of countries that are adrift by half-hour increments from Greenwich Mean Time, including Afghanistan, Iran and Burma.

As for the point of the shift, the government has spoken of improving the "metabolism" of the workers and Mr Chavez mentioned children going to school in sunlight. Politics could have something to do with it, of course. Being different from everyone else – especially the US.

Or maybe Mr Chavez is seizing control of time just because he can.