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Venezuela: Vargas reconstruction at its lowest level

By Pedro Garcia Otero | El Universal

12.02.05 | Five years have elapsed since the 1999 tragedy. During the last week rainstorms and floods have seriously hit again the towns of Naiguatá, Camuri Grande, Tanaguarenas, and Caraballeda in Vargas State.

Vargas might mirror the pretty revolution. A shattered state that would be rebuilt in a human, vigorous and upfront way. However, five years later, just essential repairs have been made to keep the state alive. Promised dwellings became slums and every time it rains, afflicted residents put their trust in the Lord.

The day the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela was approved, the sky literally darkened.

And for Vargas, then a brand-new state of just one year old, the 1999 landslides resulted in a still effective disaster.

Five years later, the situation has not changed significantly for the residents. The ordeal surfaced when, early this year, a persistent thalweg caused the isolation of dozen people eastward in the territory; damages to properties and three people dead, in addition to an estimate of 300 homeless. Besides, since Carnival holidays, a trough has left several thousand homeless people, houses destroyed, severe landslides, and river floods.

Breaking a promise

Promises of Vargas reconstruction, of being the "showcase" of the Bolivarian revolution, have not been kept despite assuring approximately 300,000 inhabitants that their basic needs would be met.

Canalization of the rivers that come from the Ávila mountain and surround the state -the cause of the 1999 disaster- is pending. The use of the region as a tourist destination has not been materialized. Although Caracas residents continue visiting the area during holidays, authorities have made little effort to turn it into an economic power unit. In Vargas there is a rosary of unsolved inconveniences, such as road serviceability.

Freeway - Conditions in the only communication way that links the coast to Caracas are critical as a result of wear and ground movement in Number 1 viaduct. Additionally, squatting in the first kilometers from and towards Maiquetía increased the damage. About 80 percent of the road that goes throughout the state, from Los Caracas to Oricao, can be used.

Regarding public utilities, Hidrocapital -Venezuela's largest water and wastewater utility- has managed to recover almost the whole tap water system and about 90 percent of sewage. However, Maya Picure adduction that serves the eastern part of the state faces constant troubles that result in outage.

La Electricidad de Caracas was named the company of year 2000 by the International Union of Electricity Companies for having reinstalled in record time the power supply in the state after the 1999 disaster, when the service was totally down.

Aseas is the waste collection service provider. However, the lack of a sanitary filling makes waste collection difficult.

Regarding public transportation, complaints about both the buses that go to Caracas and in the city are usual. Users claim that the local government and the Mayor's Office indulge the abuse of drivers.

Housing

Out of the housing projects undertaken before the 1999 natural disaster, only the projects located in front of Maiquetía International Airport have been completed.

This situation gets worse considering that almost 50,000 homeless set off for the province, but, again, the projects across the Orinoco-Apure axis and Tuy Valleys were not completed. At the end, most homeless returned to Vargas and settled down in precarious dwellings on the slopes of Ávila. Resorts have partially recovered their value, yet lack of confidence prevails among investors. Tourism could yield increasing resources, but the state took possession of Vargas major hotels located in Caraballeda. For instance, Bolivarian University will operate in the former Sheraton Hotel.

Only the owners' initiative allowed for recovery of clubs and urbanizations.

Other issues

La Guaira historic center is abandoned. It turned into a ghost town with streets and houses covered by mud. Los Caracas sector was reconstructed, but recent rains damaged again this leisure site.

La Guaira, José María Vargas and Pariata hospitals cannot cope with the number of people who request health care. The maternal and childcare center at Macuto never really recovered from the 1999 disaster.

Translated by Conchita Delgado



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