Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Puerto Cabello News and Views

A few days ago I had to go on an errand that took me into the bowels of Puerto Cabello, ground Zero of the now at least 150,000 tons of food that went bad because the government imported them without any control, the officials importing it only worried about their paybacks and not at all about distributing the food, etc, etc...  I am not going to let you know what I had to do there because, well, I do not want to take any risk for the success of my errand.  Neither do I have pictures to show you even though I had my camera.  Thing went too fast when it was interesting to shoot, or too full of Nazional Guards and all sorts of Red shirted employees now that all the private sector service for the harbor has been banned.  Still, I will have a short tale worth of your interest I hope.


Puerto Cabello is not open to the public.  To enter now you need to go in with your customs service agent (private still, they need to manage all the boring paper work that the Nazional Guard just likes to glance at looking for the flaw that will allow them to demand a bribe from you).  The agent obtains a one day pass for you and you need to drive to Puerto Cabello that day, close from me luckily.  Then he drops you at the main gate where you need to enter on foot and go though some control by red shirted folks while his car is searched.  Then you meet inside and you drive around for the errands you need to do. 

Of course, I did not see rotting food.  That part of the harbor, reasonably visible, has been cleared up long ago and probably did not have that many abandoned containers.  Besides, the port authority has many storage facilities here and there where to hide it.  So no, I did not smell any rotting food, but my agent did tell me where it was parked, one place close to where he lives so at night he could watch the bonfires made out of the contents of certain containers....  It has been going on for a few weeks already he told me.

No, what you see in that administrative area is in a way psychologically worse.  We drove in front of one of the former storage areas which now is a junkyard of huge mobile cranes, you know, those that can lift a 20 or 40 feet container around.  We are talking here of a device that can hoist up to 50 tons and more and drive around to deposit them elsewhere in the storage area....  There were dozens of them it seemed, equipment worth each at least a 100,000 dollars each.  My agent pointed out to them telling me that they used to belong to the different private service companies until early last year the port was taken over by the regime.  Now, after one year of lousy services if any, they are breaking down one by one and just towed there where they wait for who knows what.  Many looked still brand new and I asked.  He replied that they did not even bother to do oil service, they did not bother to ask for instructions, they just did not care, drove them around until they broke down and that was that.  There are only a few working still and he worries about when they will finally break down too.  He also told me that the main cranes to unload the ships were breaking down and only a very few still worked.

In other words if the port has not collapsed yet it is because Venezuela has been importing this year less than half of what it used to bring in, and with a trebling of the delay to process the merchandise the harbor has still not closed down.

Another interesting site was a locked and isolated warehouse.  I asked what it was.  It was the X-ray machinery for scanning suspicious containers.  It was shut up because it is closed whenever it rains or threatens to rain.  Apparently there is a flaw somewhere, some short, and the machine only works on sunny days....

At one of the offices we were received rather rudely by some guard.  My agent told me I was lucky, that it was not another one that usually is there.  Note the "I was lucky" not we, my agent is now beyond being lucky or not, he just deals with it, powerless to do anything against the regular abuse.

I had been there a couple of years ago for similar errands and all in all, except for the dead cranes parking and red shirts everywhere it seemed to be working the same on the surface, with still the big noria of trucks leaving the harbor once they got their load.  But what was different was the accrued control and the generally miserable look of the custom service agents who are now the only real civilians inside and who are looked upon as an inconvenience, good enough only to "bajarlos de la mula", exact a bribe form them.  Truly, I understand why some of these businesses are closing down, in addition to less traffic.

Since we managed to do everything incredibly in a single morning my agent took me for lunch.  It was reasonable place in historic Puerto Cabello.  As all in Venezuela, the touristic potential of the old quarters was still there to develop, but it was clear that authorities really could not care less about that now, all looked run down.  Lunch was pleasant as I could admire a dozen of so ships waiting patiently in line that finally there is a berth freeing from its previous occupant.  They might have to wait a week or more I was told.

7 comments:

  1. Island Canuck10:10 AM

    Daniel, when you consider that Puerto Cabello is so important for the functioning of the country it's a really scary report.

    It almost look s like they just want to get past the AN elections before the whole country grinds to a halt.

    My feeling is that if the oppos gain a majority the seats the gloves will come off & we will be in full military dictatorship just to keep control of the situation.

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  2. Last year before Santa Clara was nationalized, I went to the port for the 3 year in a row. It was clear to me then that it would only be a matter of time before things would halt. Puerto Cabello was the second largest port in the continent, but what would normally take 3 to 4 days to empty a ship of the raw sugar, it took us 2 weeks. It was frustrating, just not enough scoopers, as I don't know what other way to describe them. The dutch captian I spoke to told me Venezuela was the worst he had seen.

    I give it two years before things colapse there.

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  3. Daniel, I remember Puerto Cabello well, so it was depressing to read your post.

    You wrote:

    "Puerto Cabello is not open to the public."

    What do you mean by that? I'm assuming you are limiting yourself only to the working port area (piers, wharfs, storage areas, etc) and not the city itself. Am I correct or are you saying that you need special permission to even enter the city itself?

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  4. I can hardly believe that with all of this evidence the BBC news seems to think of Chavez as some sort of savior. They appear very misguided in the true state of the country of Venezuela. I wish they would quit trying to praise him and admitt to his being a failure. As it is said in the new Alice in Wonderland movie " Down with the bloody big head!"

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  5. We spent a long (too long) time in Puerto Cabello back in 1998 or 1999. The Base Naval there, as I understand, was the principal work yard for the Venezuelan Navy and they did some work on privately owned boats to make money. We wanted some work done, there had been some stuff in a cruising guide about the great work done there and they provided an attractive bid.

    Bottom line, the work was done worse than horribly and everything had to be ripped out and done over; in Cartagena, that cost less than having the botch job done at the Base Naval.

    We had pretty much free run of the base, could take photos whenever we wished, and could either ride the navy's boat across the inlet to the city or go in our dingy. Puerto Cabello was one of the most impoverished and grungiest places we had ever been, in Venezuela or elsewhere. Still, the people were very friendly and following the September 11 "man cause disaster" we were frequently stopped on the streets by people who expressed their condolences.

    It is very sad to hear what's happening there now.

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  6. Boludo Tejano10:52 PM

    At times it seems the US MSM is covering Venezuela better than it covers the US. From the WaPo: Venezuelan union clashes are on the rise as Chavez fosters new unions at odds with older ones.
    MARACAY, VENEZUELA -- Calling itself the most labor-friendly government in Latin America, President Hugo Chávez's socialist administration has repeatedly increased the minimum wage, turned over the management of some nationalized companies to workers and fostered the creation of new unions.
    But labor leaders and human rights groups say the government's efforts have had a dark side. About 75 union members have been shot dead in the past two years as the new unions -- many of them pro-Chávez -- and traditional unions battle it out, making Venezuela among the world's most dangerous countries for labor activists.
    "The state is responsible for all these deaths," said Orlando Chirinos, a former Chávez ally who helps lead a labor federation that has seen several members killed in this northern city. "When union leaders from parallel unions know of job sites, they sit there and wait -- and they are all armed. Everyone knows. Why doesn't the government send troops?"
    Union leaders and the respected Provea rights group in Caracas say newly formed unions have turned to paid killers, targeting low-level activists and union chiefs alike.
    Pedro Perez, a union activist here who was shot in March, said the violence stems from new unions trying to sideline old ones like his.


    Union deaths have been occurring for a number of years in many parts of the country. From the Oriente courtesy of the 2007 NYT, Ciudad Guyana Journal: Aiming for a New Pittsburgh, and Falling Short .
    This is the most dangerous place in Venezuela for union members,” said Laurent Labrique, a director of Provea, a human rights group that is investigating more than 100 killings of unionized workers here in the last three years.

    From Maracay to Ciudad Bolivar, from 2007 to 2010. Houston, we have a trend. This also reminds us of Allende's attempts to set up parallel institutions that would be loyal to him, which would supplant the old institutions.The carpenter's union doesn't elect those loyal to Allende/Thugo? No prob. Set up a different union. While history doesn't repeat itself, it is not a blank slate,either.

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  7. Roger8:58 AM

    Didn't somebody say the Cubans were running the place now?

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