Caracas has three main highways that take you out to the rest of the country. For a few hours this weekend, only one of them was available, the Autopista Regional del Centro. The other two, the Autopista de Oriente and the Caracas-La Guaira highway were closed for different reasons, making life difficult for those wishing or needing to travel.
The Autopista de Oriente was closed because the bridge at Cupira, about 130 Kms. East of Caracas, collapsed last week, as you can see in the picture above. The School of Engineers of Puerto La Cruz had been warning since 2009 that the bridge was in bad shape, but the warnings, much like those of the viaduct in the Caracas La Guaira highway a few years ago, were ignored by the Chavista Government. On top of that, you can see in the picture the large truck crane sitting in the middle of the bridge. There are reports that this truck crane, leased by the Government, weights almost twice as much as Venezuelan laws allow for a vehicle. Nobody stopped it and it was not complying with the regulations for a large vehicle circulating in a highway. This may have contributed to the collapse of the 40 year old bridge.
The consequences are felt everywhere. This is vacation season and an estimated 30,000 people scheduled to return from Margarita island by Ferry in the next couple of weeks will have troubles doing so, unless they take a 4 to 5 hour detour. Add commerce and supplies to the East and you can see that the picture is not pretty. The first day of the collapse the Government said it would have an alternate route ready in three days, but word now is that it will take around 15 days for the alternate route to be ready.
Meanwhile, the Caracas la Guaira highway was shut down yesterday for 14 hours (it was less than that in the end) so that the steel beam of the bridge of a new distributor in the Caracas La Guaira highway could be put in place. This was obviously needed, the information was unclear. At the beginning of the week, I thought it would affect me and I would have to sleep at a Hotel near the coast, as I had an afternoon flight out. But the hours were changed magically and it did not affect me, but it did many others departing and arriving from Maiquetia airport. You only had two alternatives, either sleep at a hotel down by the Coast, or take the old Carretera Vieja, which is extreme adventure tourism because of its decaying state, as well as the possibility of being mugged. You can see the new steel beam below:
But the more interesting thing is why this distributor is being built. The Distributor leads to Ciudad Caribia, a supposedly “socialist” city invented by Chavez on one of his Alo Presidentes. People are given the apartments, but they don’t own them. But the worst part is that thousands of apartments have been built but transportation to and from that new city is terrible. The plan is to have over 100,000 people live there by the year 2018. The problem is that the Caracas La Guaira highway is already overloaded and there are no plans for an alternate route to the 59 year old highway. (I know exactly how long it has been around, my mother always told us about going to see the highway the day it was opened, despite the fact that she was nine months pregnant and gave birth to my sister the next day)
But this is typical of the improvisation of Chavismo. Ciudad Caribia was rushed, without having proper infrastructure for it. People are very critical of it and construction quality has been bad, with building walls falling down months after the construction has been completed. This is not unique to Ciudad Caribia. All over the country buildings are rising, without any additional infrastructure being built. In order to rush the housing units to completion, all ordinances are bypassed, there is no planning and the result is that the quality of life is simply lowered for everyone. I guess that is what they mean by socialism.
Chavez no longer has the excuse of blaming the previous Government. Venezuelan democracy was reinstated in 1958 and Chavez has governed for 26% of those years. Moreover, he has had immense resources but has little to show in terms of infrastructure. In fact, even housing is a late project by Chavez, conceived last year as a way of buying votes ahead of the upcoming election. Chavez track record in housing is so dismal, that he has yet to better the average of the Caldera years in any given year, despite the fact that oil was in the low teens when Caldera was President.
But his track record in maintenance is even worse. Electric projects, highways and bridges have been neglected. Prior to Chavez there would be maintenance, even if few significant infrastructure projects were built. But those in charge of maintaining the infrastructure were slowly replaced by loyalists, many military officers. Venezuelan infrastructure has suffered fourteen years of neglect under Chavismo.
You would think that this would impact the upcoming Presidential vote. The excuse of the previous Government is no longer valid. After 14 years, Chavez really has little to show, so he resorts to selling ideology rather than facts in his campaign. Hopefully for Venezuelans, it will not work this time.