Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Caracas isolated, a bridge gone and a country hostage

I have not addressed much the problem of the bridge that fell last week. Simply put I was too angry. But today I did find some motivation as Tal Cual hits the streets again after a two weeks vacation hiatus. I did translate the Teodoro Petkoff editorial as Daily Journal now wants to charge us 199 USD to read their own version. Some comments of my own at the end, to clarify points that the unfamiliar reader might ignore. Emphasis from Teodoro himself. Original in Spanish here.

Chaviaduct [untranslatable pun]

It has been seven years, Hugo Chavez, SEVEN YEARS, during which the solutions to the viaduct problem have been in the hands of this government. No matter how much he kicks and scream, no matter which rhetorical turn and bad jokes are used, no matter how much he tries to put the blame on previous administrations, El Supremo will not be able to attenuate his responsibility in the string of recent negligence which led to the collapse of viaduct number 1. That there was a lack of foresight during past governments? Nobody questions. That during the Caldera administration, once a Mexican consortium had won the contracts to refurbish the highway, viaduct included, a weird lawsuit from the losing part made impossible to start work? It is also true. But SEVEN YEARS are past. The previous governments and their negligence are now history. During these SEVEN YEARS, two more than what previously lasted a presidential term, it has been Hugo Chavez who has held in his hands ALL the responsibility to overcome the previous carelessness, to get started with the recovery work of the Littoral Highway and to avoid the disaster that the collapse of this viaduct means.

During these SEVEN YEARS there was more than enough time to build an alternate route to the viaduct, that one route that was initiated barely a very few months ago. The point is not that the viaduct is out of order. We knew that this was coming.

What should have been worked on from long ago were the alternative solutions. What the “geniuses” that rule over us will never be able to justify is why did they delay so much in starting the construction of an alternate route, why did they let the flu catch them without a hanky [lost in translation].

A lot of speeches on the “re-founding the Republic”, tons of crap on the “socialism of the XXI Century”, but, how are they to re-found the Republic those who in SEVEN YEARS have been unable to build a measly road of a very few miles? The President had no better occurrence, to comment on the event, to note how “pleased” would surely be the opposition by the disaster. Each one judges as he thinks, says the old saying [some lost in translation]. Surely Chavez would be jumping on one leg if the viaduct death would have happened under another administration. But there is no one happy here. Nobody can be happy with the thousand of lost hours due to the interminable traffic lines. Nobody in Vargas, no matter how deep in opposition they might be, can be happy with this new tragedy which has befallen on their victim poster state. Incensed is what everyone is. Incensed with a government who allowed such a calamity to fall on us without having taken BUT TO THE LAST MINUTE, ALMOST SEVEN YEARS AFTER, the necessary measures to face it. This battered and useless viaduct is still standing like a mute but eloquent symbol of SEVEN YEARS of charlatanry, of ignorant arrogance, of improvisation, of negligence, of waste and corruption.

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Brief additional comments.

Since the early 80ies it was widely known that the viaduct had problems and that there was a “date of expiration” even if no one dared to stamp it.

During Caldera last term indeed some studies were done. All was canceled when Chavez came into office.

Denunciations of a weakening bridge kept going on and on. Only two years ago the government finally accepted to consider that there was something going on, though minimizing the problem as much as possible.

There has been talk of the need for an alternate route for La Guaira and Maiquetia for years already, just due to the constantly increasing traffic.

The VULNERABILITY OF THE HIGHWAY, AND CARACAS, was DULY EXPOSED IN 1999. When the Vargas disaster struck, BOTH the alternate roads and the highway were closed and slowly reopened, with intermittent closures do to additional landslides. This blogger remembers the ordeal of early January when he came back form a business vacation trip to Europe and the trip to Caracas from Maiquetia airport took longer than the trip from Paris. Since 2000 it was common knowledge that an alternate road had to be built. Nothing was done until late 2005, not even a real maintenance of the alternate routes.

Maiquetia and La Guaira handle up to 60% of commerce value. They cannot be replaced. The second harbor, Puerto Cabello is already saturated. No other entry point is equipped as well for refrigerated commerce or live stock handling. Even in volume La Guaira is second only to Puerto Cabello.

In passenger traffic Maiquetia cannot be replaced. This was also demonstrated in 1999 when Valencia airport collapsed. It would require for the military air base of Maracay to be made into a civilian airport and this cannot be done in a few weeks. Not to mention that militaries will never relinquish their playground: after all, in a military regime they can just ask for a chopper to fly them to Caracas, the hoi polloi may well be left behind.

If the crisis lasts more than a couple of months, by itself the viaduct collapse could chop of a 1 to 2 % growth and add 2 to 4 % to inflation in Venezuela. If bad weather were to cut the “alternate” and very deficient roads, we could even face a small recession.

Nobody indeed can be happy with it, and when you see that even Russian comes out to praise the adminsitration effort, you know, you just know that chavismo is running scared and is not telling the whole truth, too busy to hide its ass.

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