Boondoggle Chronicles (Updated, with pics)

Chinatown, Ortiz.

Over on the Latitude Blog, I go on and on about possibly Chávez’s craziest project yet: a high speed rail line between Tinaco, in Cojedes State, and Anaco, in Anzoátegui.

The really mind-blowing thing about this one?

They really are building it!

Update: Here are some pics from the site:

Giving proof through the night...

Welcome tourists ... not!

Raising the red, very red lantern

No housing crisis here

Those signs say "Venezuelans are SUCKAS"

This is what progress looks like

88 thoughts on “Boondoggle Chronicles (Updated, with pics)

  1. Great article, Quico. This, as you can imagine, hit close to home:

    “At the barracks near Ortiz, the red flag of the People’s Republic of China flutters over the ocher prefab buildings where Chinese engineers are reasserting Caracas’s sovereignty over the plains.”

    Just to give you guys some background – the train was our ticket to getting people in Parapara to talk. As in, “We’re journalists who have been sent to investigate the train the Chinese are building around here, what do you know about that?”

    After leaving Parapara, we headed on South. After about twenty minutes, in the middle of nowhere, there it was: the red flag of the People’s Republic, Chairman Mao’s flag, the flag of the Cultural Revolution … fluttering proudly in the Llanos sky, in a compound of newly built houses surrounded by electrical fencing, with painted-over Cemex trucks parked nearby.

    Quico can tell you I almost had an aneurism. That sight, the rojo-rojito flag of a foreign power, stirred up every patriotic gene in my body. I was indignant. Still am.

    Later on I can post some more pictures.

        • Please call home, Mr. Kepler.
          I posted months ago-there will soon be 10,000 Chinese workers in Venezuela
          and maybe very soon a military post of thousands of Chinese too..very soon.
          This is what Chavez has “planned”-actually in his haste to try and free from
          the Yanquis he jumps into the arms of the Chinese and now Venezuela
          is indebted up to their eyeballs to the Chinese…

      • well, Juan over-reacted. First, the Chinese flag is one of three, the others being the Venzuelan and possibly the state flag. Second, the Chinese flag is at the entrance of a residential complex, not of a Venezuelan government office..

        Is Juan going to have an apoplectic fit when he sees the flags of many countries, fluttering in the breeze, in front of a major Caracas hotel?

          • I disagree. if Juan is to be “our” intrepid reporter-on-a-fact-finding-mission, he has to develop some ice water in his veins. (He also has 3 daughters to think about. Imagine Quico delivering the news: Lo siento en el alma, Katy, pero a Juan le doy un yeyo al ver tantos chinos en el cul* del mundo.)

            It’s not as though Chinese turn-key ops are an unknown. Good grief, the US is in debt up the wazoo, not only wrt to its military endeavours but because the Chinese are their bankers.

    • That’s nothing, Juan.

      When you go to Barinas (or when you went a few years ago) from Mérida, after getting out of the mountain road and entering into the plains, after Santo Domingo, IIRC, right after the “Bienvenidos a Barinas” sign there’s a HUGE sign that says ‘Haliburton’.
      I found it between enraging and hilarious. There in the natal land of El Comandante, Dick Cheney’s company has an outpost. Perfect symbolism for our country, even more than the Chinese flag. I am so mad at myself for not taking a picture.

      • Not the same-not defending Haliburton, etc. You just don’t get the scale and scope of
        the Chinese -by the time you see the whole picture ..will be too late.

        • Charles, quit being in such a panic. Venezuelan labor law is clear: Every project by a foreign investor needs to have roughly 9 Venezuelan workers for every expat. CNPC and other Chinese companies have been very frustrated because Chavez has continued to enforce this law.

          There may be some change in the last year or two, as we have seen CNPC planning for more workers at its Caracas headquarters (other companies in their building have all been evicted) and now this in the railway industry. But the wholesale import of Chinese workers, by the tens of thousands? No. Venezuela is still Venezuela.

      • Didn’t the Devil do a piece a little while back about a US group setting up a company solely for the process of buying generators and reselling them to the Venezuelan government at a premium? I’m not totally sure on those details, but that doesn’t really surprise me at all.

      • 220 Km/h. More or less like an IC train of the Deutsche Bahn.

        http://www.bahn.com/i/view/GBR/en/trains/overview/ic_and_ec.shtml

        “It’s a train from nowhere to nowhere.” Indeed it is. Tinaco to Anaco, of all places. The Barquisimeto main station will continue to be a ghost place, where time stands still.

        The urgent necessity for a funtional train system in venezuela is huge. For example, the Carnaval holiday showed me why. The traffic jams at the highways, the horrible conditions of our roads, the overdependence of the public in buses that not always comply with safety regulations and/or just go like hell, like they’re on warp speed. The list of reasons can go on and on.

        • Is going to be hard for any rail system to compete with the world’s cheapest gasoline; so we are back to the petrol subsidy, I’m afraid.

      • Oh so sorry, didn’t realize that. Then yes, it is consider high-speed. Quite funny because the one that is being built between Cagua and Pto Cabello only will go to 180 km/h and only in some parts. I know there is some geographical challenges but I think they could have done it better… anyways..

      • There are varying definitions of high-speed rail, but 220 km/h fits well within all of the definitions I have seen. Now whether they can achieve that is another question…

  2. “The reasons so many Venezuelans chose to settle in the coastal highlands rather than the central plains in the first place — quick access to the sea, better agricultural lands, respite from the punishing heat and endemic malaria — never quite enter the picture. Socialist planners in Caracas have determined that too many people have been enjoying a cool, productive and healthy lifestyle for too long.”

    This completely ignores the reasons why urbanization in Venezuela exploded since the 1940′s. If you actually understood that then you might better understand the government’s efforts to reverse the trend.

    (hint: droves of people didn’t move to Caracas to be closer to the sea, or have better agricultural lands! And Caracas barrios can hardly be considered “cool, productive and healthy”)

        • Because not everyone is interested in only hearing their own side’s point of view over and over again. And besides, your explanation doesn’t even make any sense.

      • Venezuela had one of the highest urbanization rates in the world starting in the 1940′s. Unless you think people suddenly decided around 1940 that they preferred the “cool, productive, healthy” lifestyle of Caracas barrios and “quick access to the sea”, then there must be another explanation for why so many people moved to the coastal areas.

        The reason has to do with land tenancy in the rural zones and an unproductive agricultural sector. Both of these are things that can be altered through government policies that connect these zones to markets and provide necessary infrastructure to increase productivity.

        In other words, government policies can make a big difference in why people choose to settle in different zones. It’s not just a natural choice like Quico implies. But, of course, mentioning the real reasons for urbanization would have undercut his whole nonsense argument.

        • I see. So now that the proper policies are in place and agricultural production has started to increase it is time to start building trains to make sure that when the people show up the infrastructure is in place to support them.

          • Uh, actually agricultural production has increased significantly over the last decade. And, maybe you didn’t know this, but producers need ways of getting their production to market before they will actually produce…

            • Need to post the video here where MCM asks in which imaginary country do you live … Agroisleña debaucle is looking really nice … do you run the bureau of fake statistics ?

        • The thing about agricultre was addressed. Can government make policies to make better infrastructere and less endemic Malaria? Who knows, but they didn’t, and people decided “fuck that.” 1940 makes me think of better transportation possibilites, information, and a bit of enough wealth to haul ass out of the frying pan.

          Can government start making policies now that will convince some people to move back?

          Not this government. They are trying to learn to fly before they learn to not be a human but an alien from Kripton instead. See what I mean? An expensive train does nothing.

    • None that I know of. There are, of course, the world’s largest oil reserves about 400 km. south of the Tinaco-Anaco line, but they’re very specifically NOT planning to build a train line down there! It’s mental!

      • Watch the map – http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/74/Mapa_Ferroviario_GRIScopy-2.gif

        See that line running South of the Orinoco through Bolivar state!? Like most of them, that one’s just a line on a piece of paper at this point – no actual engineering work, much less construction. But even the fact that that line is there is perverse…nobody lives there! And by putting the line there, you very specifically refuse to serve the same trayecto but about 50 km. north, on the North Shore of the Orinoco, where there is a godalmightly fuckload of oil!

        I really want to smack the people who made this plan upside the head. It’s just insane…

        • Still Quico, not all of the map is insane. If HALF of what’s drawn there got built we’d be in good shape.

          The actual line you wrote about goes from Tinaco all the way to Maturin. That makes more sense than ending it in Anaco.

          Another thing, how much of that map is for passenger traffic, and how much is for cargo?
          As Gustavo Henrique wrote above, it is imperative we get as much heavy traffic off of our collapsed highways as we can. Rail is a great way to do this.

          If we actually had a real country, where we actually grew our own food, much of the lines on the map make even more sense, but until we get there……………………..

            • Woops! Sorry chamin!

              I’ll go three times around la redoma de La Pastora on my knees next time I’m there as a penance!

          • Trouble is – they only did the engineering work for the tramo to Anaco! The rest is just that, lines on a map…

            It takes looking at it in some detail to realize how crazy it is. They just forgot all about Cumaná for some reason, coño que le hicieron los Cumaneses a Chávez pa que les echara esa broma?

            My favorite, though, is the Altagracia de Orituco station – these geniuses idea of plugging Altagracia into the rail network is to run a line going Eastward to Clarines, where presumably you’d have to switch trains to get to Caracas!! You’ve taken a Ciudad Dormitorio and hooked it into the network in the least practical way possible!

            Of course, this is all notional, since again that plan exists only on paper. The likelihood is that 10 years from now the Valencia-Caracas line will remain the same mess of half-finished bridges and tunnels it has been for years. So you could very easily end up with a National Railway System consisting of two lines: one from La Rinconada to Cua and the other from Tinaco and Anaco!!!

            • “…how much of that map is for passenger traffic, and how much is for cargo?…”

              I was about to ask the same question.

              It’s not clear on the map, and so many lines interconnecting each other don’t make sense either if it’s a cargo train, which is mostly what the country needs.

  3. This sounds like a fairly typical megaproject in 1950s Soviet style. The notion that people will move out to the llanos just because there’s a rail line out there is somewhat silly at best. True, businesses might find some of these small towns more attractive after they’ve been connected to the outside world but the fact remains that the government is ignoring the reasons behind decades of urban migration and imposing its own logic on the whole process. People don’t crowd Caracas and live in crappy housing because they enjoy overcrowding, they do so because that’s where the jobs are at. Building an awesome high speed line won’t bring investment to a country where everything gets expropriated on a whim. And unless Hugo is ready to pull some jobs out of his cancer-stricken rear I can’t see this going anywhere other than the dustbin of might-have-been.

    • Years ago, my family bought an old plastics factory in San Juan de Los Morros with the idea of becoming more centrally located and to be able to expand. We bought the place for a really good price, but when it came time to install machinery and get the place cranking we ran into a few difficulties:

      1) Electric service. CADAFE (need I say more?) Reliability and quality were simply non existent.
      2) Labor, believe it or not was hard to come by.
      There were other, smaller reasons too that did not help at all. In the end, we installed 25% of what we wanted to and ran it less than efficiently since we could not depend on the electricity nor the labor pool to give us 24×7 conditions necessary for efficient plastics production.

      Eventually, we shut it down and sold it after about 5 years. Thankfully we sold the place at a profit and in the end really did not lose money, although I lost sleep and lots of it, having to commute from Caracas 5 days a week for about 5 years.

      The moral of the story is, I guess, infrastructure away from the capital area is going to be a priority if you wish to motivate people and employers to move away from the capital area and towards the interior.

      • infrastructure away from the capital area is going to be a priority if you wish to motivate people and employers to move away from the capital area and towards the interior.

        I believe this is imperative for logical reasons. My first cousin and his partners moved their manufacturing plant from Caracas to La Victoria, over 20 years ago. Smart move. They now commute.

      • I don’t doubt that – and really, I would have no problem with a project like this if it was centered on 2nd tier cities like San Juan de los Morros that really do need major investment in infrastructure. The problem is that the train DOESN’T GO through cities like that: it goes through 4th and 5th tier towns – Zaraza, El Sombrero, Dos Caminos – that have 55 more basic, more pressing infrastructure needs that ought to be put ahead of a high speed train!

  4. It would be very interesting to contact the had of the Colegio de Ingenieros to ask if this project, or any part of it, went to tender. Also, I’m not sure, but is it normal to do pre-feasibility studies on a project that is not due for development for 15-20 years? That, too, could be broached with the CdI.

  5. Thanks for the additional pics guys.

    Coño, we just don’t learn do we? There’s the Chinese flag flying above the Venezuelan one.

  6. Great post.

    Now, there are a couple of inaccuracies that some Chavistas put here and elsewhere. I will write something just for reference specially because they also say it elsewhere.

    1) The Llanos have always had an extremely harsh environment. That is the main reason why when Juan de Ampués arrived in Coriana, most native Americans were living along the coast and in the Andes regions and the ones in the Llanos were hunter gatherers most of the time. The Caribs considered Guamos and Otomacos and similar to be pretty primitive, but there is no surprise with the environment where agriculture was at that time so hard..Now, I would say such places as San Juan (outposts of the Coast Range) and Acarigua (part of the Barquisimeto-Tocuyo area) were fertile, south of that was hell.

    There were regions along the coast that were unhealthy but they were mostly mangroves (like the area West of Choroní and up to Borburata, La Guaira to Ocumare de la Costa). Still: once you passed that area, it was wonderful. Not so in the Llanos, because of the extreme dry/rainy season, the quality of the earth, etc, etc. This is the kind of things pendejos sin fronteras don’t know. There has been a lot of writing about this.

    2) It is true most Venezuelans live along the coast and it is true people have kept migrating from the Llanos for a long time now.
    Still: the demographics are completely different in both places, with very high birth rates in the Llanos. In reality and contrary to what a PSF wrote here, the percentage of the population living in the Llanos states (approx. Anzoátegui, Apure, Barinas, Cojedes, Guárico, Monagas and Portuguesa) has remained more or less constant at least since 1926. In fact, it has been similar even before.
    580,551 people or 19.18% of the 3026878 Venezuelan inhabitants were in the Llanos in 1926.
    4,543,046 or 19,71% of the 23054210 inhabitants were living in the Llanos in 2001.

    One of the things the alternative forces didn’t see for a long time is that although 95% of Venezuelans do live in cities, apart from Car-Mar-Val-Bar, there ARE also cities in the Llanos now: from Barinas through Acarigua-Araure, Calabozo, El Tigre to Maturín, A. Of course, they are not across the areas where this train is passing.

    Although I abhor Brazilian or Soviet-styled plans to try to populate the Llanos (we actually have a birth rate that is too high) and for me it’s stupid to build cities in the middle of nowhere or start a train system without real planning, I do think we need strategies to make the existing cities of the Llanos more attractive, more productive and put there some of the NEW services the state needs..

    Chinese: I think the second to last character is rui4 (good luck). Last one is la1 (transport or a lot of other things but don’t get the context here, will ask a Chinese friend)

    http://statoids.com/uve.html
    http://www.ine.gov.ve/censo/reportes/sociodemografico_12004.pdf

  7. I can’t believe nobody has commented yet on the sign above the one that says “China Railway Corporation” or whatever.

    Fat man in da house!

    • From my Mandarin coleague next door, form the mandarin:

      zhong-guo-zhong-tie-ve-ne-rie-la-fen-gong-si
      (De izq. a derecha)

      Clear now?

      • Yes, Chinese-railway-Venezuelan-company, literally, like what is written below in Spanish. But I think Juan meant the board with Chávez in the picture, doesn’t he?
        I thought the signs on the fence. But now I see that is also some word with wei-nei-rue-la, Venezuela.

  8. Have we missed the point? The Chinese loan money to countries to do projects, collect the repayment plus interest, and require the use of Chinese labor and material, paid from the funds of the loan, which are then repatriated to China. Good work if you can get it and has been going on for some time now.

      • You nailed it. Even if Cuba approves,that is what it is.
        Watch the mass migration of Chinese to work on projects in Venezuela.
        Next will be the Chinese military base.
        (Later they will bring family.)

        • Watch the mass migration of Chinese to work on projects in Venezuela.
          Some migration has already occurred. Several years ago I had an online conversation with a Venezuelan blogger about Anaco, a town which both of us knew. In sharing stories about Anaco, the blogger mentioned that there had been an influx of Chinese to Anaco. Not just to staff the restaurant.
          http://caracaschronicles.com/2007/07/29/ill-take-the-gunbao-chicken-some-springrolls-and-32000-bd-please/

          • The largest migration in history is moslems moving to “greener pastures’.
            The second largest is Chinese moving and setting up shop, seeking minerals,etc…

        • Actually, they don’t bring the family. At least not most. Remember that, because of China’s birth control policies, they have a demographic skewed towards a significantly higher number of males than females. China is always looking for ways to siphon off excess males to other parts of the world. In addition to the other benefits to China, these types of projects allows them to export excess uneducated males. Even if the project finishes, or gets terminated, those workers are never going back to China. They are our problem now.

  9. Until the goverment is accountable for the budgets it burns through and the time and opportunities wasted, there will be no rigth incentives to do anything a more sensible way!

    The incumbents just maximized the adecopeyano model and are now getting dirty rich managing the treassury, along with pimps from all over (China, Iran, CUBA, etc…)

    The aspiring (Henrique et alias) need to signal a true intent to make public office open to accountability, benchmarking, competitiva tendering, (its not a groseria), etc if the want to plant the seeds to do things in a rational way.

    If they do not signal this, in my book, they are just waiting in line for their turn at the can…

  10. It’s just fitting and proper, to have the red flag of a (still even now?) communist power flying over a costly railroad from Bumfug to Boondocks (no offense to small towns, but really, have they use for such a thing?).

    Now the barracks bully who would be a Party Secretary believes that the scatterbrained antics he calls socialist policies have caused a boom in agricultural production (or might cause one at any rate). So he decides to spur some decentralization, to put the parts of the country he mismanages from the capital on the map, through… guess what? micromanagement and pharaonic building. Man do these people crack me up.

    The communist planners would be funny for their lack of any sense of reality, were it not for the ongoing tragedy of their countries because they were deadly serious. Their later tropical imitators produce some tragedy, true, but on the main, they are just comedic.

  11. I think Juan meant the board with Chávez’s picture above the one talking about the Chinese-Venezuelan corportation.
    Oh, shit, now I see: the fence with the grass probably has something with wei-nei-rue-la as well…thus the rue-la is the last part of Venezuela.

  12. There are only 2 ways to explain this surreal project:

    1. Severe mental retardation.
    2. Corruption.

    Since so many people involved cannot be that mentally disabled, it’s obvious that lots of people are going to get filthy rich, illegally, even several thousands of Chinese.

    • You’re right Carlos. Unless you are Mao or Pol Pot, you place your bets on smart urban planning and infrastructure. Big, dense, efficient cities are the future. Take that Chinese loan and build some 21st century infrastructure in Caracas. The people are not moving back to their ancestral homes. Ever.

  13. Congratulations, Mr. Toro and Mr. Nagel. I took you trip all wrong. I thought you were just going far away “getting lost” for the adventure. No.you are serious journalists on a mission. This is vitally important.
    I disagree with Sapitosetty-I believe there is reason to panic.How many good jobs -Mr. Sapitosetty-all engineers and “good jobs” will be manned by Chinese, do you want to bet?
    What if -this whole high-speed rail is for the Chinese- and who will build the train -the Chinese.
    This is to bring Chinese workers rapidly in to an area Chavez has said China can “have” -ie.exploit
    and they will connect to the Orinoco Faja and Chinese workers will be drilling for oil..
    Chinese ships, chinese stores, chinese hotels and beaches, they will “colonize” or “colonialize” Venezuela.
    Chavez already cashed out, sold out..

  14. Isn’t the real story- China will take over the oil industry of Venezuela?
    O/T-but look at Cuba- Brazil is investing in upgrading port and airport-why?
    Because -Brazil is taking over the sugar industry in Cuba and will use
    Brazilian technology to harvest and produce ethenol also.
    Why, because Castro has make everyone do everything by hand practically
    forever..and would never allow “yanqui technology”- no they spent money only
    on military for example..do you see any comparison to Venezuela?

  15. Furthermore, why shouldn’t the Chinese take over the Iranian car factory in Venezeula-(the latest models are based on Chinese designs), and the Chinese should take over the Iranian tractor factory in Venezuela, take over the Iranian bicycle plant, the Iranian milk plant (built where there are no cows)
    Imagine a Chinese dollar store in every town in Venezuela – it is happening now-flooded with cheap,
    Chinese products.
    A related topic- PJ Media article about a month ago-mentioned 10,000 Chinese workers in Iran and
    a Chinese military base in Iran.
    Everyone knows Chinese are strategically buying control of the earth’s resources -someone quoted
    Chinese already control 95% of the semi-precious metals in the world..
    On another note- a book “The China Paradox” says -China will use all ALL of the earth’s resources in
    the next 50 years and a crash from within is inevitable.. China;s plan is to spread out around the world
    and Venezuela
    Here’s a quote from Independence 2012:
    “You’ve got to give the Chinese credit on this one. It’s brilliant the way they’ve played Chavez like a Stradivarius to serve their own ends. Chavez is so anti-Yankee that his focus on anti-Americanism has blinded him into turning Venezuela into a tributary to China. China is going to have Venezuela so leveraged that they will have secured for their vast population an abundant source of fuel at low cost and under their thrall. It’s ironic that, in his bellicosity against nations he’s accused of being colonial powers, Hugo Chavez is turning Venezuela into Chinese financial protectorate.”
    Please read:http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/feb/21/chinese-loans-put-venezuela-over-barrel/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS

  16. Even sadder is that the progress on the RR line from Puerto Cabello to Caracas, is at a standstill. Now THAT is a line that is needed NOW (or twenty years ago).

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