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.