Monday, June 15, 2009

When the Caracas Metro is just a tinker toy for some chavista apparatchik

Some days when I see how out of touch with the common folk chavismo is becoming I get my hopes up. Surely, once looting is considered, a government whose plans for the country cannot go beyond Mercal and free aspirin cannot last that long. The case I have at hand is a double fold treat for you: corrupt incompetents at the Caracas Subway and plain corruption at the Caracas cable car (but that for a following post).

You will forgive me if I go into a very long post but the details are important here as Caracas will have to live forever with the consequences.

How the design of Metro Line 5 is changed as the crisis keeps evolving?

The Caracas subway system is in dire need of expansion, the more so that the centralization policies of Chavez are going to keep increasing the population of Caracas out of any measure. It is to be noted that in 10 years of rule Chavez has only inaugurated a short segment of 3 metro stations, all duly planned and contracted before he took office. We can also count an extension of Line 3 with 4 stations still not working fully (I think one is not open at all). For the record the other 38 stations were opened by 4 presidents, that is, an average of 9 stations by 5 year term, and all of these presidents with way less resources than Chavez has had.

But I am not going to get into the details on how incompetent chavismo has been in managing and building public transportation in Caracas and its far distant suburbia: I would need a full blog devoted to the topic. Instead, the president of Caracas Metro since last January, Claudio Farias, gave us this week a perfect symbol on all that is wrong with chavismo, as it is getting into its 11th year or "planification".

The work on line 5 has been advancing slowly. So slowly in fact that now that chavismo has run out of money. Seeing that Caracas is not voting for Chavez anymore, he is looking for ways to save money and screw us along the road. One simple way to do that is to remove two subway stations out of line 5.

Now, you can argue that well, we are in time of crisis, these stations could be built later, it is more important to do at least the line, and whatever other reasons as we find in countries even slightly less dysfunctional than Venezuela. But when you read the words of Claudio Farias you know that nothing of the sort was considered, that some late night in Miraflores, desperately looking for corners to cut, Chavez and his minions just decided to cut off two metro stations. I am putting the words in Spanish first, with the (sic) added by El Universal and then my translation.
"La línea 5 ha sufrido quizás un retraso. Pero las estamos replanteando, pues nos parece que es una línea que no tiene ningún sentido"; "Esa es una línea que beneficia a la oligarquía (...) Las Mercedes, hermano, la Principal de Las Mercedes va a tener dos estaciones en la propuesta cuando todo el mundo que va a Las Mercedes va (sic) en su carro a los restaurantes. ¿Se necesita que la Principal de Las Mercedes tenga dos estaciones? Ni siquiera, La Hoyada y Capitolio"; "La estación Bello Campo que está al lado del Gustavo Herrera. ¿A quién beneficia esa estación cuando tiene al lado Chacao y Altamira? Nosotros estamos planteando que esa estación sea eliminada. Esa estación no beneficiaría a nadie, en lo absoluto. Ya se hizo el estudio".

“Line 5 may have suffered a delay [talk about an understatement!]. But we are questioning it, because it seems to us that this line makes no sense”; “This is a line that benefits the oligarchy (…) Las Mercedes, brother, the Principal [avenue] of Las Mercedes is going to have two stops in the proposal when every one that goes to Las Mercedes go (sic) in his car to the restaurants. Does La Principal de Las Mercedes need two stations? Not even La Hoyada and Capitolio.”; “The Bello Campo Station that is next to the Gustavo Herrera [famous high school] who does it benefit when it has nearby Chacao and Altamira? We want this station to be eliminated. This station will benefit no one, absolutely. We have done the study” [a study which is nowhere to be found by the way]
There is so much wrong in this that feeble minds would be at a loss as to where to start. But I know my history, I know how traffic is in Caracas and I know how to use the Metro even if it has become an exercise I avoid as much as possible, if anythign for the Ali Primera music forced on us.

The first thing that Claudio misses is the original purpose of Line 5 , probably already under planning by the time Chavez was preparing his 1992 coup. Then Claudio was in all likelihood a small time neighborhood thug, a time from which he kept his speech ways. If you look at the Subway map above you will notice immediately the East West direction, to which lateral valleys are connected. The geology dictates that but the uncontrolled and unplanned growth makes this natural handicap a disaster. Note: line 5 is line 4 on this "official map" but chavismo loves to change names and numbers.

Soon after Line 1 was was opened there was an interesting phenomenon observed: whenever an "accident" happened in the Metro, everybody was late to work or for home. That is, a single East West line was very vulnerable to, say, a suicide, and all Caracas would be affected. Soon it became obvious that Line 1 was insufficient and that is when plans for line 5 and a still distant third parallel line were accelerated. It might seem crazy in a way to make so many parallel lines but the human circulation justifies them perfectly well. If you doubt me just drive around Caracas between 4 and 7 PM, East West, or North South blocked by East West, and get back to me.

The second thing is that Claudio totally misses the structure of the neighborhood where he decided to suppress a station. This is better explained looking at the map below lifted from El Nacional.

Claudio might be Metro director but he obviously does not take the subway to go home at night, and certainly not through almost any of the stations featured in this graph.

First, why Bello Campo should not be closed

True, Bello Campo RIGHT NOW would not be a major Caracas station, but that does not mean it is not important contrary to what our Amateur Metro president thinks. Chacao is another extremely busy station at rush hour and Bello Campo would be a nice option for the harassed office workers. And Bello Campo is close from a major shopping Mall and other commercial areas that depend on Chacao station, causing a lot of traffic congestion. Last but not least Bello Campo is one of the few neighborhoods in an area where there is possible business development that would happen for sure once a subway station is built, releasing the pressure on small areas like historical Chacao to survive as inhabited areas. Not to mention that Bello Campo would be next door to a lower class wedge between Altamira and Bello Campo! Are those not supposed to be chavista voters?

Chacaito Las Mercedes now
  • Chacaito is the busiest station of the area, maybe Caracas, because form there leave all the buses that go South, to Middle Class Prados del Este as well as to Lower Class Las Minas. As such the Chacaito area is usually collapsed half of the day by buses parked in double and triple file.
  • One or two of the Las Mercedes stations will pick up these bus traffic leaving Chacaito only for bus routes for Northern areas of Caracas or out of Caracas.
  • If Las Mercedesi s eliminated, one of the arguments of Claudio falls down because the distance between Bello Monte and Tamanaco would be simply too long.
  • Also the Principal de Las Mercedes is long enough to deserve two stations. Depending on where exactly the station is located the La Hoyada Capitolio dimwit statement falls flat on its face.
  • South of Chacaito there is a lot of business and commerce and a Las Mercedes station would be a nice option for the folks working there, further decongesting Chacaito.
And more other arguemtns that I coudl write, but I have saved for the end the utter idiocy of Claudio argument.

He says that the only folks that go Las Mercedes are rich people hitting the dining/party circuit. I cannot think of a crassest statement, of a more horrifying nouveau-riche-let-them-eat- cake reason. What about all the waiters, the cooks, the bartenders, the garbage collectors, the sales clerk, etc, etc that work in Las Mercedes? Are they not entitled to a fast subway ride too?

What we see here is a got-fat Claudio Farias who now has a chauffeur, a Metro assigned car and possibly body guards and even a police or two on motorbikes stopping traffic to let him go through while the hoi poloi watches. This is how low the chavismo servants have fallen, how far from the needs of the people. Surely they will notice, won't they?

Note on Farias. He used to work with Diosdado Cabello who brought him to the Metro once he was unseated in Miranda State. He is a nobody but he is very willing to do all the dirty work and to suck up wherever it is needed. If we consider the amount of corruption reports on the Cabello tenure at Miranda's helm we can also assume that Claudio is a a "trusted" adviser of Cabello and thus a corrupt individual. The Internet on a quick glance reveals the following:

He used to be a Metro employee, even holding a station management, according to pro Chavez ABN. The lack of details leaves us to think that he went as far as he would have gone, thus not great management prospect to direct the Metro alone. But let's assume that I am wrong.

His mission is clear: further introduce politics into the Metro, as for example this inauguration of a Che Guevara center for Metro employees.

His initial promises that all would be better came to a crash landing within three months of his tenure. Apparently there is a witch hunt inside the Metro where people not solidly rojo-rojito are removed, and it started with his arrival.

His mismanagement goes from pretending to sign contracts that no one is clear about to organize the system in such an unsafe way that 80 Metro depending bus burnt a few days ago. Some people rumor that the fire was deliberate because these stocked bus were out of service due to very deficient maintenance and they wanted to avoid an inquiry. Not to mention possible juicy commissions to replace these buses. Note that he might have done that himself, but clearly he is not controlling his subordinates.

So you see it by yourself, the quality of public servants that Chavez is imposing on us, the kind of people that are making decisions about the future of Caracas. Guess who will pay the bills later? Not them, I can assure you, comfortably ensconced far from where justice can reach them.

-The end-

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