Caracas a Livable City? New Index Says Not on Your Life

Middle and upper-class areas in Caracas suffer from a lack of public services.
Middle and upper-class areas in Caracas suffer from a lack of public services. (Wikimedia)

EspañolCaracas is only one of four cities in the world, and the only one in the Americas, to have experienced an abysmal decline in its quality of life over the past five years. The only cities that have experienced worse drops in “livability” are those mired in armed conflict: Kiev, Ukraine; Tripoli, Libya;  and Damascus, Syria.

This is according to information provided by the Intelligence Unit of the Economist in their latest Global Liveability Ranking and Report published in August. The study evaluated 30 factors related to stability, health, education, infrastructure, culture, and environment in 140 cities around the world.

The capital of Venezuela, which ranked 126 of 140, is the only city in the Americas to have experienced such a drastic decline across the relevant indicators since 2009. In contrast, the other cities in the region highlighted in the report were Bogotá, Colombia and Asunción, Paraguay, whose citizens experienced major lifestyle improvements during the same period.

In the last five years, Caracas has seen a 6.4 percent drop in its quality of life, on par with the five point decline of Cairo, Egypt. Among the cities at the bottom of the list, Kiev declined 17.8 percent, Tripoli 18.1 percent, and Damascus 28.3 percent.

Among the study’s more notable findings, data shows quality of life indicators across the board have experienced a general decline over the past 12 months globally, largely due to general global instability. Over this time frame, the quality of life in all selected cities fell by 0.22 percent.

Citizens of Caracas Concur

The Civil Association for a Possible Caracas (Asociación Civil por la Caracas Posible) conducted a survey of 1,257 people showing that only 3 percent of the Caracas’s citizens feel “very secure” in their city.

The Study of Management Perceptions of the Mayors of the Metropolitan Area of Caracas, published on August 5, revealed 60 percent of those polled believe insecurity to be the greatest problem facing Caracas, followed by solid waste collection (23 percent), lack of public street lights (14 percent), and the quality of public transportation (13 percent).

Construction in and around Caracas has increased on land claimed by squatters.
Construction in and around Caracas has increased on land claimed by squatters. (Wikimedia)

In an interview with the PanAm Post, Fredery Calderón, the president of For a Possible Caracas, said these problems have been ongoing and have turned up as concerns for the citizens of Caracas in previous polls. However, Calderón indicated that there are a new set of issues that appeared in this latest survey related to the economy, including shortages, an increase in the cost of living, and inflation, which have made Caracas a worse place to live.

Calderón: the absence of foreign investment has contributed to the impoverishment of the city.

“People spend hours and hours trying find the most basic products, and they have also stopped consuming other products due to price hikes that have come with inflation. This has resulted in the closure of businesses that we have begun to see,” says Calderon.

“The city has experienced degradation that is very difficult to recover from, because it is linked to the security situation, and the perception that is generated in the region and the world.”

Citizens Blame Central Government

The study conducted by For a Possible Caracas also analyzed the satisfaction level of residents with their local government in Caracas, made up of five municipalities under the larger district-wide government. Of those polled, only 17 percent blamed the local government for the city’s problems, while 53 percent blamed the country’s central government.

This is in line with the 81 percent of respondents who felt local governments were simply not capable of meeting their cities’ needs. This sentiment may be attributed to the national government’s centralization of public services, a process that former President Hugo Chávez made part of his national policy agenda and that continues in Venezuela to this day.

“In other cities, many of these powers are in the hands of local government, but in Caracas, they have been centralized. Here, the transportation system (Metro and Metrobús) reports to the Minister of Transportation, electricity is in the hands of the Minister of Electric Energy, hospitals and schools are not in the hands of local government, because they have taken those powers away. The people are able to identify that the national government is responsible for many of these issues,” says Calderón.

In addition, the ruling party has used the power of the central government to create a parallel authority in the municipalities where they have lost local mayoral elections.

In 2009, Chavistas created the Capital District Government, an administrative body led by the “head of government,” an unelected presidential appointee. This new appointee was granted the powers previously held by the city’s mayor, opposition leader Antonio Ledezma, in the municipality of Libertador, the only municipality within the district where the opposition has not won an election in recent years.

After losing the mayoral election, Chavistas appoint Ernesto Villegas to oversee the Ministry of Popular Power for the Revolutionary Transformation of the Great Caracas.
After losing the mayoral election, Chavistas appointed Ernesto Villegas to oversee the Ministry of Popular Power for the Revolutionary Transformation of the Great Caracas. (Wikimedia)

Following the most recent mayoral and gubernatorial elections, in which Ledezma won reelection against his Chavista opponent Ernesto Villegas, the central government repeated this same tactic and created the Ministry of Popular Power for the Revolutionary Transformation of the Great Caracas. Villegas was placed in charge of the new ministry and tasked with the duties and authority that the local electorate had previously denied him.

As a consequence of this concentration of power in the central government, other problems have arisen throughout the cities. This is especially true in the more affluent neighborhoods of Caracas that are known for their dissatisfaction with the Maduro and Chávez administrations.

Calderón notes the lack of public street lights in the eastern part of the city, which residents of the area attribute to intentional neglect on the part of the government. “As a political issue, the electric companies do not make repairs to public street lights in these areas, which brings about a lower quality of life and greater insecurity as result of the lack of lighting,” claimed the urban activist.

Translated by Alex Clark-Youngblood.

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