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Unnatural Disasters

By Tomas Sancio | Venezuelan Politics

05.09.05 | Katrina Alvarez could very well be the name of a La Guaira resident who still doesn't have where to live more than six years after a natural disaster hit her house on the Venezuelan coast. There are complete towns like Carmen de Uria that have never recovered from this event. A glance at the site currently reveals a level of destruction similar to the bombing of a city. The great force of the overflooded rivers knocked down everything in its path and no government (Iocal or national) has been able to figure out how to recover the area or even transform it into something better.

Instead of keeping their mouth shut to not reveal our incompetence in recovering from natural disasters, our main government figures have made a party out of the unfortunate events that have occurred recently in the USA Gulf Coast, especially in New Orleans. In his latest declaration the Venezuelan Vice-President, José Vicente Rangel says that "the USA has shown its weakness with the Katrina hurricane". As a Venezuelan with friends in the USA, I can only express my apologies for his unfortunate words.

Not only are they unfortunate, they're also incorrect, especially when comparing against how the Dec. 1999 La Guaira floods were handled.

  • First, Mr. Rangel, when Katrina approached New Orleans, people were asked to evacuate the city. The reason why many people stayed behind is well explained in this Slate article: most of them were poor and did not want to see their belongings stolen (reminds one of somewhere, no?). Hence, the people were warned but many of them just couldn't leave. That's in sharp contrast with President Chávez motivating people to vote for the Constitution on Dec, 15, 1999 while there were already signs that the constant rains would cause some kind of landslide disaster (ok, nobody knew the magnitude but hazardous landslides occur almost every year). Eventually, the Avila hill would absorb so much water that it started shedding rocks and slabs of soil like a melting candle. The rest is well known.

  • Second, Mr. Rangel, when it comes to recovering from natural disasters, developed countries like Japan or United States have historically done it very well. The town of Carmen de Uria is a living (or dying) example of how we can be lousy at it. For example, I had the chance to visit Kobe in 1999 and I thought it would be interesting to see the effects of the 1995 earthquake. Much to my surprise (not to the Japanese's), I couldn't find any physical indication that it had occurred 4 years earlier. The USA is not much different if you consider that the state of Florida is usually pretty much back to normal way before the next hurricane season starts.

Pointing out the twig in the other person's eye may help your supporters feel like if you are doing things well and in some cases act with a sense of superiority. However, some statements just don't stand the minimum analysis.

Silver Lining: The USA accepted Venezuela's offerings to those affected by Hurricane Katrina. Although it's quite odd for the world's first economy to receive aid from these latitudes, it's good that an olive branch was offered and accepted.

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