Hanging by a thread

What, were you expecting them to be yellow?

The Venezuelan government is pretty bad at everything it does. But you know what it is tragically, prodigiously bad at? Running cable cars.

Last Sunday, the Waraira Repano cable car that goes up and down Ávila Mountain in Caracas broke down, leaving thousands of tourists stranded until midnight. Like something out of a Three Stooges sketch, it is still not clear what caused the malfunction. Both El Universal and El Nacional tried to get a statement from the cable car company, but there was only silence. The PR Department – yes, the cable car has a PR department – said that the Tourism Ministry would be issuing a communiqué (blaming the CIA, I suppose), but it has yet to appear.

Looking for the scoop on this, I found out that the Mérida cable car, the “tallest” and “longest” in the world, has been out of order since 2008. In 2010, Tourism Minister Alejandro Fleming assured us the new cable car would be ready in 18 months, a deadline that already came and went. No trouble, now Mr. Fleming – yes, he still has a job – assured us that the cable car would be ready by 2013.

Just to reassure us, Fleming informed the public that the government had already spent a jaw-dropping US$318 million … on a cable car that isn’t running. The funny thing is that in 2010, when they gave the magical 18-month deadline, they assured us the cost of the repairs would be BsF 169 million, roughly US$40 million at official rates.

Not, of course, that tourists would have any obvious way to get to the base of the cable car, since Merida’s airport has been shut down to commercial traffic since 2008.

What do you call a government project with massive cost overruns, horrendous delays, and zero accountability? Chavismo puro y simple

HT: Jose Antonio.

41 thoughts on “Hanging by a thread

  1. My wife & I have been trying to visit Merida for 4 years. The idea was to fly to Merida & rent a car for a week.
    First there have been continuing problems with rains & blocked roads in the months when we can travel.
    Second there are no car rental agencies, at least on-line, at the airport which, as I understand it, is almost 1 hour from Merida.
    We even considered flying into Barinas & starting from there.

    What a shame for such a beautiful tourist destination. Another potentially super tourist destination, like Margarita Island, that has been destroyed for foreign & local tourism.

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      • It’s not THAT scary. The worst part is the Barinitas – Santo Domingo route, there are constant mudslides and it lacks barriers in some parts of the road. But after Santo Domingo it gets pretty decent, it’s actually been paved and everything, and there are barriers for the whole way. Plus, the views are incredible. I make the journey every 4 months or so (By bus!) and still haven’t had one inconvenience, you’ll be fine.

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  2. Cable cars break down all over the world and I have been on the one you compalin about, here in the States we have bridges that collapse and other infrastruture that breaks down all the time but only the “chronically clueless” do we get such garbage on a daily basis.

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    • You’re right once more–from the “chronically clueless” who run Venezuela, “we get such garbage on a daily basis.”

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    • Some time ago, there was famous bridge collapse in Minnessota USA (by the way, one of the most competent in the States). They found a very complicated cause, associated with this kind of bridges.

      They analized it, and began a follow-up of all the bridges of this kind in the USA. They published guidelines to analize this problem, and ordered to control these bridges.

      By the way, you should mention that USA has near 600,000 bridges. Venezuela has around 6000. You should be taking about 100 COLLAPSES of bridges each year, to begin to compare.

      In Venezuela, a bridge, an electric power plant, and oil refinery collapses and NOBODY cares.

      In USA, they take this thing seriously.

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  3. JC,

    What a pity.

    The airport in Merida always frightened me.The planes just seemed to take a nose dive upon landing.Because of that I always preferred to drive through the Paramo.My last few years in Venezuela AC( AFTER CHAVEZ) were quite sad because people strongly advised me to stop driving it due to danger in crossing certain areas beyond Barquisimeto.It appears that I was too gringa looking ,and being a woman didn’t help either.

    Is there another airport people are using to fly into Merida? I have loads of friends in Merida, but nobody has mentioned this problem to me.

    I have heard some about deteriorating states of the airplanes, and ferries.Venezuela will not last another 5 years of Chavez.

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    • El Vigía. If the road is blocked because of mud avalanche, you need to use the old road, 4 hours to get to Merida from the airport.

      ALso, the empty airport is used as a course for car races these days

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      • Thanks Guido, Wow, Just imagine the hassle for people who live in Merida! No wonder most of my friends say they don’t get out much anymore.

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        • Fuck yes. As recently as 2005, I used the airport for my second plane trip ever. We landed, I got my baggage and 20 min later I was lying in my bed smiling with memories.

          The last time I departed from Mérida in a plane, I had to leave my house 6 hours before the trip. And stay overnight in Caracas. Departing in a morning flight from El Vigía was not an option.

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  4. So a few months back, I was in a unique location in China and they told me that I was riding up the world’s longest cable car. I corrected them of course, knowing I had already been up the world’s longest cable car in Meridah. When I got back, I googled and discovered that Meridah had been closed down for some time. oops.

    This cable car did not break down.

    So it is the loges:

    http://www.cnngo.com/explorations/play/worlds-5-most-thrilling-cable-cars-285325

    I have been on many cable cars in china…none broke down. Clearly I am clueless. I know that my friend, a former tourist guide in Meridah lost some very good friends when the cable car broke down…with people on it, killing some of them.

    So maybe it was a good thing that the Chavament closed it down…so the could spend much more than it could possible be worth to rebuild it.

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    • Merida’s cable car is the world’s highest, but the longest not anymore. Sweden and China have had longer aerial tramways than ours for some time.

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  5. There is a memorable account of the last days of the finicular in Merida in Michael Jacobs’ great and often hilarious book, Andes.

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  6. Was the one which broke down on Avila Mountain the same one which Carlos the Jackal’s brother pointed to with such pride in a recent link here?

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  7. You mention the delay on the Mérida Tram… if you can find the transcript of the Aló Presidente #317 (August 17, 2008) you’ll read this:
    -Hugo (dirigiéndose a la ministra de turismo): “Y el teleférico de Mérida que?”
    -Ministra: “En un año está listo, señor presidente”.
    So yeah, according to the first estimate, it’s already 5 years late.

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  8. When I was a little girl, in Caracas, in the 60’s i used the teleférico several times a year. It was expensive at the time (4 Bs per person) and one had to be in line for at least one hour to get in, but it worked. Then, all of a sudden, the teleferico did not work….I don’t remember it being available in the 70’s. I heard that after many years, a concession was given to a company and it worked for a while..then it was taken by the goverment….in the end, the teleferico, that could be one of the most interesting sightseeing sites of the city, has not worked or not worked properly for many many years.

    I am not trying to give excuses to the current administration, but the reality is that many things have been mismanaged for years.

    In fact, the more I think, the more I realize that the Venezuela of my infancy (the 60’s) it was maybe much more developed as a country that what we have right now.

    1.- Public schools worked
    2.- Public hospitals worked. I was treated several times in the Children’s hospital by specialists and had an emergency once at a public hospital with excellent treatments.
    3.- We got massive vaccination campaigns payed by the government
    4.- There were government programs to learn how to read and write, even as adults
    5.- There were massive public health campaigns against Chagas, malaria, bilarzia, etc
    6.- The transportation, electric and telecommunications infrastructure worked
    7.- Public transport, based on “carritos por puesto” worked.
    8.- We had a lot of parks to go every day and, on weekends, Luna Parks, Parque del Este or El Pinar. All affordable, clean and safe.

    So, where did it go wrong?

    How is it possible that the Venezuela of more than 40 years ago was better than the one we had afterwords?

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    • Bruni, I also remember all those things, and find it strange when people comment that the 4th Republic was just as bad.Are these just young people who don’t remember?Or are they a bit unable to make comparisons….nothing was perfect but it certainly was worlds better than today.

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    • Gross mismanagement of ample resources. Perez Jimenez did wonders with $1 oil. CAP 1 wasted money on , for example, Ciudad Guayana, when we could have imported steel/aluminum even from the natural resource-poor Japanese for much less than could be produced in Venezuela, and thus squandered/stole a $10-20 oil boom. Devaluation/inflation followed in the Eighties-Nineties and eventually produced Chavez The basic problem all along, in my opinion, is the general lack of sufficient education among the elected political leaders/politicians, apart from the devil’s excrement effect/hacienda-peon cultural mentality/corruption. Yes, Caldera was well-educated, but a blue-sky impractical Socialist, who gave us Chiripero Leftist corruption and a pardoned Chavez as the estocada final. The rape/pillaging of Venezuela by Chavez/cohorts probably has few if any equals in modern history. The ignorance of even so-called educated Chavistas, such as Giordani, is beyond belief (yes, ideology.rationality=corruption.

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      • Allow me to talk about some mismanagement no one sees.

        Perez Jimenez burned the entire Financial Stability Fund of the Venezuelan treasury, which had been set up with gold reserves and left untouched since the Juan Vicente Gomez years, in order to build the country he saw fit. That’s US$80 billion (yes, billion) worth in today’s dollars.

        Supposing we had had it available in full, Venezuela might have overcome the 1980s oil bust and Viernes Negro would’ve been less Negro than we experienced. But in actuality Venezuela never had enough surplus to rebuild it after the Perez Jimenez’s regime. Not even during the oil boom of the 1970s, because the public money squandered by CAP’s croonies only amounted less than a quarter of the aforesaid fund.

        Knowing this now, don’t you think we actually paid too high a price for the urban modernization process of the 1950s?

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        • Gold at $35 an ounce then (which is what’s relevant) was greater in value than several milion bb/da. x$10-20 or more a bb?? Are you really aware of the great number of public/social works built by PJ?? And what little has been done since?? And do you think what little value at $35/oz. gold was valued at then would not have been squandered quickly by Venezuela’s Democracy, which went heavily in debt to the point of bankruptcy in the 1970’s??

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        • Cuba makes that same excuse. “They stole all the gold and we never could recover!” Bull fucking shit. It’s blatant cronyism and party loyalty. That’s a recipe for disaster.

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          • My point is: a load of money that wasn’t supposed to have been spent was burned up. But the “we never could recover” excuse wasn’t what they came up with. The policy was abandoned. However, even if Venezuela had saved like the Ant and hadn’t partied hard like the Grasshopper after PJ fell from power we would unlikely have raised a corresponding amount of money on the Stability Fund.

            Of course I’m talking of the period 1958-1998. El Comandante might have been able to restore it but was intellectually unfit to do it.

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      • CAP 1 wasted money on , for example, Ciudad Guayana, when we could have imported steel/aluminum even from the natural resource-poor Japanese for much less than could be produced in Venezuela.

        I think one has to be careful about judging historical facts, when seen in the rear-view mirror. Purchasing steel/aluminum from the Japanese would have been, back then, politically disastrous. The problem, too, is poor management, not just in the governments of old, but also in the resource-rich sectors of Venezuela. That is, with the exception of pre-Chávez PDVSA.

        Also, mention should be made of the wild-ride sovereign debt levels in the 80’s, which in turn, increased the economic imbalance.

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        • Politically disastrous? Why? Because we didn’t like Japan(not!)? There’s something in rational economic planning called relative economic advantage–you buy from where it’s relatively economically advantageous (barring certain social/public spending, which Ciudad Guayana was not). It’s this type of convoluted thinking that has Chavez announcing the construction of a Haier nevera plant, talking of manufacturing/even exporting fruit juice processing plants, and even manufacturing satellites for sale (as in his long TV cadena last night). At this rate, Venezuela will NEVER dig itself out of its fiscal/economic hole!

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  9. it says its expensive because of the terrain, well, fixing Merida costs the same. The mos important thing is that for one third of a billion dollars we build a small infrastructure project, for a billion the Chinese build huge projects, it is really screwed up.

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