Lots of articles about the Viaduct #1 in today’s papers both
El Nacional and El Universal give brief histories of the problem as well as the
search for an alternate route. El Universal probably devotes the most space to
it (which is good since it is free) with articles about the history
of the road and the viaduct, with some really neat pictures of the viaduct
being built, unfortunately only one appears in the online version.
I did learn a few things which in the end show how
inefficient the previous Governments were, which is not new, but the whole
story certainly puts most of the weight on the responsibility of the Chavez administration, even if they want to deflect the blame.
In 1988 the then Ministry of Transport requested bids for
building a new viaduct. The results of that process were voided. In 1993
another process was opened, eight different consortia presented 12 different
proposals. The bidding process was never completed.
Finally, in 1995 there was a process to choose who to give
the concession for the upkeep of the highway. The winner would have to, among other responsibilities,
the task of building the new viaduct from the tolls collected. A study
determined then that the minimum toll that needed to be charged had to be US$
0.60 per car and higher for trucks and buses. The plan was to start low and increase it
to a higher level so that in time the average would reach the required amount. It never
happened. The toll never got above US$ 0.20 and when the Chavez administration
got to power the contract to the company running the highway was rescinded due
to the protests by those that drive the road (Who all happen to own cars or buses). Since then (2001) there has been no toll charged on the highway in typical populsit style. The
company that ahd the contract went to arbitration and won a verdict of US$ 13 million, which the
Venezuelan Government paid. Curiously, the toll of US$ 0.60 was below the toll charged to cars from
1953, which started at US$ 0.857 in 1953 and was still US$ 0.697 when the first
big devaluation took place in 1982, when another incompetent Luis Herrera Campins was President..
There is also an article in the print verison that I can’t find in the online version
of El Universal by a Professor of Topography of the Catholic
University. He relates
how he was hired in 1992 to make measurements on the viaduct and he detected the curvature
that eventually led to its demise. He noted in his report that some special
structures built into this viaduct, it was the only one of the three viaducts that had
them specifically because of the problem with the displacement of the mountain
on the south side, had all collapsed.
He tells how he was hired again in 1997 and how in 1999, his
contract, which he says was quite cheap, to make measurements was ended by this
Government. In its place, the Ministry decided to buy a system of GPS’s for
early warning. It was never installed. (Will someone investigate this?)
In 1999 he made a proposal to isolate different parts of the
viaduct (I did not quite understand his explanation). He says this was exactly the opposite
of what was done. The attempt to fix the viaduct added weight to its structure and affixed
it more to the side of the mountain under displacement. He claims the repairs
attacked the problem by fixing the viaduct, but the problem was the displacement
of the mountain which pushed the viaduct, they tried to fix the effect rather than the
I relate all of this, because I have heard some remarkable, irresponsible
and outrageous statements in the last few days, which is simply alarming. The first one is that the National
Assembly will not look into whose responsibility the closing of the viaduct
was, but iwill only look for solutions to the problem. This is absurd, that is not
exactly their job description, unless they pass a Bill to temporarily suspend the laws of
physics so that the mountain stops pressuring the viaduct.
Then, there is the mindless Chavista Deputy who said on
Friday that five years was not enough time to take care of this problem. Clearly
he does not even know how to count, Chavez has been in power seven years, but
he forgets the highway was built in only three years by a Government which was
as autocratic as the current one, but was efficient.
But the most bothersome statements I heard this week, is
that there is no project for an alternate viaduct. That’s right; according to the
President of the Colegio de Ingenieros in yesterday’s El Nacional, all that
exists is a preliminary project which lacks soil studies, feasibility studies
and environmental impact studies. Now, that is scary! All these guys trying to defend
the Government’s work and it turns out that the only plan is to pave a road in
the bottom of the ravine that the viaduct spans over, right on top of a river
of sewage that may be less stable than the viaduct itself. This is absolutely
And think not only about the overall impact on the economy,
such as the slowness for freight to move from the La Guaira airport and port to
Caracas, or simply business people not being able to come easily or travel abroad
easily. No, think about the people in Vargas state, who suffered the mudslides in
1999, that half destroyed their state and are still waiting for the promised reconstruction.
They have now lost two of the most important sources for their income: They are
unable to come to Caracas where a large fraction of them work and people will
be unable to go to the beach to spend the day or to stay at the numerous clubs or
buildings there, the main livelihood of those that live in that state. The
third source of income in that state are the jobs at the port and the airport,
both of which will see reduced activity due to the closing of the road.
These are real people, mostly poor, whose lives have been
hit extremely hard twice in five years, once by nature in 1999 and now by the inefficiency and
incompetence of their Government. The same Government by the way, that they overwhelmingly voted
for in 1998, 2000 and 2004. Go figure! But perhaps, Alberto Barreda said more succintly (El Nacional (page C-3)), what we have known for all of these seven years, the revolution has no shame in blaming others because: The revolution always begins tomorrow!
(Personally, the viaduct was a source of anxiety for me most of today. My 80 year old mother arrived today and we had to figure out how to bring her up, keeping tabs on her progress after she landed. To top it all off, her luggage did not show up, so now an additional trip has to be scheduled, under these difficult circumstances to go u and down to the airport, in order to go and get it whenever it gets here. Additionally, my wife will arrive in two days, her plane lands after the old highway is closed to passenger traffic (10 PM), so I had to work out how to bring her into the city using a 4WD vehicle via the Avila National Park, which is also closed to non-residents at night. Fortunately, there are some very enterprising residents in that Park)