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Whistleblower: Infrastructure Planning Bites the Dust in Caracas

By: Sabrina Martín - @SabrinaMartinR - May 14, 2015, 9:08 am
Experts claim the widening of a key Caracas highway puts the road at severe risk of flooding.
Experts claim the widening of a key Caracas highway puts the road at severe risk of flooding. (PanAm Post)

EspañolOn March 8, Venezuela’s Transport and Public Works Ministry (MTTOP) began work to widen the Valle-Coche highway in Caracas, as part of broader plans to improve the country’s road network.

Nevertheless, the ministry failed to carry out the required traffic and environmental impact studies before beginning the project, while the Ministry of Eco-Socialism knows about the wrongdoing and is “doing nothing” to stop it.

An MTTOP source, who preferred to remain anonymous, told the PanAm Post that Transport Minister Haiman El Troudi is pushing ahead with a “badly executed” project as part of a road-building drive that prioritizes quantity and speed over quality, disregarding the risk of significant logistical and environmental fallout.

He explained that the widening of the highway will expand into the channel currently occupied by the river Valle, which could break its banks at any moment and flood the highway, affecting thousands of citizens traveling through the area. In particular, the official criticized the vertical cutting of the river banks, rather than the usual sloped transition, claiming “this means that it could collapse with the slightest rainfall.”

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A graphic of the “badly executed” solution. (PanAm Post)

“When a ministry or a company is going to carry out a project it should have an environmental impact study, but because they’re the government, they began work without even having this important requirement … there’s a rule that says for each tree cut down, you have to plant others. [But] they’ve cut down over 300 trees and they’re not planting any, they’re not compensating for the damage,” he added.

“What’s worse is that the Ministry of Eco-Socialism and Water hasn’t received any proposal, still less a study on the environmental impact, which in normal cases would merit the opening of an administrative procedure against those responsible for the works,” the official lamented.

In the event of a flood, the government’s Project Guiare, working to clean up the river, would also be affected. Former President Hugo Chávez promised that the stream would be suitable for washing in by 2006, but the deadline came and went without a significant improvement in water quality.

The government specialist added that the highway project, as well as other ongoing public works initiatives, fails to comply with legislation that stipulates that every public project should display a sign “indicating the name of the resident engineer, the name of the inspector, and the amount of investment involved.”

A History of Failure

Although the source alleged that the government wasn’t only cutting corners in Caracas, it’s the capital where the majority of infrastructure works are being built, and where improvisation by the ministry responsible is most apparent.

He mentioned the project to elevate roads in Caracas, in which the public ministry had to destroy the surrounding area to make drainage channels after building the concrete structure, having failed to carry out hydrological studies before beginning work.

Another source that preferred to remain anonymous told the PanAm Post that the Transport Ministry is not being included in the plans for various works, a necessary requirement to carry out prior impact studies.

16 Years, 11 Ministers

The PanAm Post contacted Celia Herrera, a director of the Venezuelan Society of Transport and Road Engineers (Sotravial) to hear her take on the state of roadworks in the South American nation.

Herrera stated that Venezuela is severely lagging behind in transport works, with the road network only increasing by 2 to 3 percent in recent years.

“In the period of democracy towards the beginning of the 1970s, our system of highways was the envy of all of Latin America. They focused on huge public works, and thanks to them we today have a transport service like the the Caracas metro,” she noted.

Nevertheless, the expert explained how once the perfectly structured road network was in place, investment and expansion was left to one side, while population growth increased the strain on highways.

“During this socialist period the experience has walked hand-in-hand with neglect; in the last 15 years we’ve had a ministry that’s changed names multiple times. It went from being the Ministry of Transport and Communications to the Ministry of Infrastructure, to the Ministry of Public Works and Housing, to the Ministry of People’s Power of Transport and Communications, to the Ministry of People’s Power of Land Transport and Public Works,” Herrera detailed.

“But beyond these changes, to date we’ve had 11 different ministers, one of them serving a repeat term,” she added, arguing that current Minister El Troudi is making inroads in public opinion simply by appearing to do something after years of near inactivity by the ministry.

The civil engineer further underlined the need to embrace again good engineering practices and transparency.

“It’s absurd to think that citizens or technicians want things to go wrong; we want the management to be successful and for the best possible public works to be finished and done well. We’re worried about the misinformation; we’re interested in the government bringing in the College of Engineers and universities [as advisors], to avoid differing value judgements between the various parties,” she concluded.

Translated by Laurie Blair.

Sabrina Martín Sabrina Martín

Sabrina Martín is a Venezuelan journalist, commentator, and editor based in Valencia with experience in corporate communication. Follow @SabrinaMartinR.