Archive for October 30th, 2007

When confrontation and ideology are taken to absurd limits, there is no hope for democracy.

October 30, 2007

When I think about what Governments should be about, the
first thingthat comes to mind is that they try to solve the problems of the
population in order to improve their standard of living and their quality of
life. This would seem to have little ideological content; Government is there
first to serve and help the people and should look for solutions.

This all comes to mind because there is one problem which in the last couple of
years ahs gotten really bad in Venezuela,
the problem of traffic. To give you an idea of the problem, in 2002, when we
moved to the office where I work, it would take me some 8 minutes to get there.
I timed it, because I was so please that I could get to work so fast, when
three years early, it would take me two hours to drive into Caracas
from Los Teques
where I lived. Then I moved to Caracas and it would take about twenty minutes and when the office moved, it became
only eight minutes. To me, it was Nirvana.

Well, lately, it is taking me about twenty five minutes to get there in the morning
and between 45 minutes and one hour to get back in the afternoon. Just to get
out of the parking lot is a nightmare, as there is a light around the corner
and each time it changes maybe a couple of cars get out of the parking lot.

The reason for the increased traffic is simple: Cheap gas and cheap cars.
Gasoline prices have not increased since 1998, making gas essentially free in Caracas. I fill up the
tank of my car with less than $2 at the official rate of exchange or less than
$1 at the
parallel rate to give a very rough number. The second reason is that since car
companies are able to import vehicles at the official rate of exchange, which
has remained constant for the last three years, those that have salaries can
afford more and more to buy cars as their salaries have moved up with
inflation, while car prices have remained the same. This has increased car
sales (to mostly the well to do, not the poor!) to levels near half a million
cars per year. Add to that no major road construction within Caracas in the last eight years and no major
highways and you can see the problem.

According to Chavez, he does not want to improve roads in Caracas, because he has better things to
spend money on. While don’t believe that excuse, he ca definitely set priorities
on how money is spend. However, traffic is a problem for everyone, as commuting
times have doubled or tripled in the last three years and this affects everyone
and definitely affects not only the quality of life, but takes away family and
rest time from everyone.

The mayors of two of the municipalities in the Caracas metropolitan area have tried to
improve the problem by banning cars from driving one day a week for three and a
half hours every morning and every afternoon. First it was the Mayor of Baruta
and last week the Chacao municipality began a pilot program to try the same
system. Last week the ban, with no fines, was started in the mornings and this
week the afternoons were added. Next week, anyone driving on the day their car
is banned will be fined. It should be noted that the ban does not include the
highways that crisscross Caracas
so that people from other municipalities can cut across as long as they use
them.

The problem arises in that the two Mayors happen to belong to the opposition.
You would think this would not matter when you are trying to solve a problem
that affects everyone, but it does with the confrontational style of Chavismo.
Last week, the Mayor of Chacao suggested that the other municipalities should
join them, to make it more effective and efficient.

The response? Exactly the opposite. Since it is an initiative of opposition
Mayors, then instead, the Director of the Metropolitan
Transportation Institute said that they plan to issue a decree prohibiting the
application of the bans in what he calls

Francisco de Miranda, which also cut across the city. The guy, namedu003cbr />Rafeal Argotti, argued that they have studies of car mobility thatu003cbr />show these bans do very little and added that his daughter, who worksu003cbr />in one of the municipalities with the ban, tells him that there areu003cbr />traffic jams all the time anyway (El Nacional page C-2 today, byu003cbr />subscription).u003cbr />\u003cbr />This is clearly ridiculous. First of all, the bans do have an effect.u003cbr />The last two days I have found no traffic coming out of where I worku003cbr />and the times have been shorter. Second, his daughter’s evidence isu003cbr />less than scientific. Finally, while his mobility studies may suggestu003cbr />it does not work; removing 20% of the cars in a city jam-packed withu003cbr />vehicles ahs to have some significant impact.u003cbr />\u003cbr />The point is that this should not be a debate about ideology, butu003cbr />Chavismo turns it into one, as the fact that it was the oppositionu003cbr />mayors that began these projects makes it “bad”. Bt what is worse isu003cbr />that there is no alternative solution to the problem. As we say inu003cbr />Spanish these guys “Neither do the wash, neither they lend theu003cbr />washing trough” (Ni lavan ni prestan la batea).u003cbr />\u003cbr />How can you even begin to hope to agree on a Constitutional reform oru003cbr />a framework for how the country should function, if you get hung upu003cbr />in minor practical problems like this one on ideological grounds?u003cbr />There is little chance for a democracy to function when theseu003cbr />bickering over minutiae occurs. But, of course, who says Chavismo isu003cbr />even interested in creating a democracy or even debating issues likeu003cbr />this one.u003cbr />\u003cbr />In the mean time screw the people, let them waste an hour daily inu003cbr />traffic, just because…u003c/div>”,0]
);

//–>
“intermunicipal” avenues, such as Avenida Libertador and Avenida
Francisco de Miranda, which also cut across the city. The guy, named Rafeal
Argotti, argued that they have studies of car mobility that show these bans do
very little and added that his daughter, who works in one of the municipalities
with the ban, tells him that there are traffic jams all the time anyway (El
Nacional page C-2 today, by subscription).

This is clearly ridiculous. First of all, the bans do have an effect. The last
two days I have found no traffic coming out of where I work and the times have
been shorter. Second, his daughter’s evidence is less than scientific. Finally,
while his mobility studies may suggest it does not work; removing 20% of the
cars in a city jam-packed with vehicles has to have some significant impact.

The point is that this should not be a debate about ideology, but Chavismo
turns it into one, as the fact that it was the opposition mayors that began
these projects makes it “bad”. Bt what is worse is that there is no alternative
solution to the problem. As we say in Spanish these guys “Neither do the wash,
neither they lend the washing trough” (Ni lavan ni prestan la batea).

How can you even begin to hope to agree on a Constitutional reform or a
framework for how the country should function, if you get hung up in minor
practical problems like this one on ideological grounds? There is little chance
for a democracy to function when these bickering over minutiae occurs. But, of
course, who says Chavismo is even interested in creating a democracy or even
debating issues like this one.

In the mean time screw the people, let them waste an hour daily in traffic,
just because…

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