Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Happy birthday Caracas! Here, take this unfinished subway line!

Today’s is Caracas birthday and the city is not happy. Never in its history its streets have been so dirty, so full of potholes, its sidewalks so invaded by all sorts of peddlers, its public transportation so deficient, its services so inadequate. Even the dignitaries of the regime are flocking to the few islands of relative civilization left in the Eastern part, sometimes even carrying along their ministries, such as the tourism ministry now located in the old grounds of the US embassy in La Floresta. Chavismo which has promoted the largest decay of downtown Caracas is fleeing the scene of crime. Meanwhile the mayor at large, Barreto, cannot think of anything better than to change the birthday date of Caracas as if that would be enough to scare away all of our ills.

A new subway?

But Caracas got a new subway. Or did it? In fact, the "new" line inaugurated a few days ago is not that new. At least, the trains are not new: a friend of mine that had to ride it reported to me that it was the same old worn out cars of the Caricuao line which are now used on that new line. See, the new line is in fact the prolongation of the Caricuao line and the picture of Chavez driving is probably from one of the few new trains that have been added to accommodate the increase length of the line.

But there is really nothing wrong in prolonging a subway line. It happens all the time, even in the best and most organized of the countries. What is wrong is all the lies that chavismo is trying to have us swallow when Chavez is inaugurating the line. To begin with, the extension is not complete: none of the stations is finished, lacking from elevators, to escalators, to proper orientation signs and even some of the exits. This forced Caracas metro to dispatch, in a rush, a lot of additional staff to orient people during inauguration week. Again, an half assed job from a chavista administration as the old metro personnel, a model of efficiency and service have been slowly replaced by apparatchiks while one of their failed union pseudo leaders made it to the top of the Venezuelan National Assembly.

But it is even worse. The much heralded “new” line is not only unfinished at inauguration time but it is THREE YEARS late from the original schedule. See, when the Caldera administration ended, in January 1999, it handed over a project, all calculated, all financed, already under work, that could be completed in 4 years. Completed being the operative word. All of this was planned for an oil barrel not expected to go above 15 to 20 USD. Now, mid 2006, as Chavez thirst for “accomplishments” to buttress his electoral image aggravates, he hands us a half backed project, late, with a bombastic inauguration, not bothering to explain to us why with oil at 3 times the original projections his regime was not able to provide Caracas with a better subway, or at least a complete one. And do not give me the excuse of the coup and oil strike. All was previously planned, and the money became abundant in 2003 to catch up from the delays already accumulated BEFORE the political “problems”.

Chavismo had just to follow the blue prints, all was studied and decided probably on the cheapest possible way considering the then low oil prices. But no. I remember in the very first months of Chavez administration that some silly bureaucrat thought that the Caracas subway was a luxury the country could not afford. As good revolutionaries reinventing the wheel, they thought that a trolley system along the Avenida Lecuna would be just as good as a subway in an already over congested city. Fortunately two things happened. One was that the French companies and international financing groups eventually managed to make someone understand that postponing the construction would not only risk losing the financing, but also provoke the application of expensive cessation of contracts clauses. In other words the subway cancellation would cost lots of money so Venezuela might as well build it.

But also someone must have finally pointed out that any trolley in the Lecuna Avenue would be totally gridlocked in traffic.

So the works restarted after a few months lost. At least chavismo surely had the chance to change some of the contractors and I assume managed to cash a few commissions along the way. But we will never know, will we? Meanwhile the first year of delay had taken place, politics an inefficacy accounting for the other two years. (1)

A new conducator?

But something was bugging me with that picture of Chavez driving the “first” subway train ride on Line 4. Eventually I got it when I recalled a recent picture from Santiago. In a recent visit, France's president Chirac rode the Santiago Subway with Chile's president, Michele Bachelet. See, in democratic countries the elected leaders, be they socialist or center right, try to pretend to identify really with the everyday occurrence and concerns of the people, even if behind closed doors tax payers money allows them to sip Champagne and eat Foie Gras canapés. But no, in Venezuela, Chavez, the great leader, has to drive his new toy, to show that he is in charge, that he is leading the country. Quite a difference in style, isn't it? Two democratic leaders standing in a crowed subway car, on one side; and on the other side the conducator alone sitting in the front cabin with a limited number of selected sycophants. Tackyly with a huge camera filming. Indeed...

Because this is what Chavez reminded me when I put these pictures together, a certain Ceausescu flavor of times past (?). One of Ceausescu’s glorious titles was "Conducator" a Romanian language variation of Il Duce. I usually call Chavez el Supremo, from the Roa Bastos immortal novel. But perhaps "Conducator" might be more appropriate for Chavez mix of Fascism cum Communism: the great leaders in charge while their country is run into the ground (or underground in this case).

If the gentle reader that has accompanied me this far thinks I am seriously digressing I will disagree, That driving of the Subway reflects in fact the complete lack of vision of what has to be done about Caracas. I am sure that never again in his life Chavez will take the Caracas Metro as a mere passenger. This image illustrates how remote from the people Chavez is becoming, and thus how unable he is to articulate an urban renewal plan for Caracas. Which of the ills of Caracas does Chavez suffer? The buhoneros? The lack of services? The congested subways? Just as the Conducator of Rumania, Chavez is becoming more and more disconnected of the people in spite of all the baby kissing he does. Chavez might want to check out how the Ceausescus ended.

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1) Bloggers seem to carry the memory of the land. In all the newspapers that these past two weeks I read I did not find ANY ACCOUNT on how the delays described above came to be. All what I wrote above comes from memory, from all the articles I read then as I am a train and subway fan, riding the subway in any city I have ever visited! How come El Universal just mentions "administrative paralysis" for example? Aren't the papers duties to illustrate us on all the lies that an incompetent administration delivers us, every day less and less challenged? Or are journalists in Venezuela living for the day's news and too lazy for a little bit of digging in the past? Sometimes I wonder what the real games of the press are in Venezuela.

Meanwhile I can document all that I have written above from the collection below of only El Universal links. El Nacional had even published then a map of the projected trolley but that one is subscription only. If I had time I could document things much better. Meanwhile you can check any of the following links: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, and observe that many or the articles cited are dated BEFORE Chavez reached office. Heck, I even included one of the Los Teques Metro of 1997! One that will be inaugurated soon as an all Chavez achievement!

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