Pico y Bonkers

Quico says: I’ve been trying to think up the right words to describe the Opera Buffa surrounding Miranda State Governor Henrique Capriles’s decision to trial the “Pico y Placa” anti-congestion plan on the Panamerican Highway. As the voluntary pilot got going this week, the entire controversy shot through multiple layers of absurdity to attain heights of sheer dada nonsense to make any Buendía proud.

Lets start at the beginning. Traffic in Caracas is bad. I mean really bad. I don’t mean annoying-but-whatchoo-gonna-do bad. I mean imperiling-people’s-livelihood-strategies bad. People living in outlying suburbs like Los Teques and Guarenas can easily spend 4 or 5 hours a day stuck in traffic. The reasons aren’t hard to fathom: gas is way too cheap, there are more and more cars, no new roads, and the new mass transit systems just aren’t keeping up with demand.

Enter “Pico y Placa” – roughly translatable as “Rush Hour Plates”. It’s a simple, low-tech system to get traffic moving again during the hellish commuting peak times. If your licence plate ends in 0 or 1, you’re asked to car-pool or use public transport on Mondays, or else to commute earlier or later than usual. If your plates end in 2 or 3, it’s Tuesdays. Etc.

Thanks to its success in Bogotá, the plan attracted the attention of some opposition mayors in Caracas, who saw it as the kind of common-sense solution to an acute quality-of-life problem they’d been elected to enact. So they trialed it. And, to an extent, it worked…so far so sane.

Enter chavismo. As soon as they caught wind that oppo mayors were doing something small-scale, practical and successful, chavistas flipped out.

Suddenly, the right to drive your car whenever you feel like it became a matter of High Constitutional Principle, a cornerstone value Bolivarian Socialism. Carpooling started being denounced as the thin-end of the fascist wedge.

Injunctions started flying, which were of course accepted by the chavista judges who now preside over just about every court in the country. In time Supreme Tribunal eventually handed out a genuinely bizarre ruling declaring Pico y Placa unconstitutional. Because, apparently, cars have a constitutional right to free transit in Venezuela.

Score one for the noble bolivarian ideal of…erm…um….spending a lot of time stuck in traffic and…ummmm…standing up for the fundamental rights of oppressed cars everywhere. Right!

So the mayor’s offices involved had to stop collecting the fines they’d used to enforce the plan, and you thought that was the end of that.

Except it wasn’t, because the traffic problem in Caracas remained just as bad as it had been. So newly elected Miranda State Governor Henrique Capriles decided to try to run Pico y Placa on a voluntary basis, with no fines. In this form, the plan was little more than an exhortation from the governor for people to coordinate their commuting so the hellish drive on the Panamerican Highway (really just a 2 lane road) from Los Teques would be a little bit nicer for all involved.

Now, this is where the story gets weird…

Yesterday, on the first day of Capriles’s volunteer trial, Miranda State authorities documented a notable decrease in car volume…which would’ve eased congestion on La Panamericana considerably, if it hadn’t been because the government concluded that this had to be some kind of car-pooling based CIA destabilization plan and sent a fleet of military-style Armored Personnel Carriers to watch over the road.

Of course, now that the plan is fully voluntary and no Miranda cops were out writing tickets, it’s not exactly clear what all those National Guardsmen’s role was…were they supposed to, um, arrest people for not driving their cars at rush hour? Or, now that Bolivarian jurisprudence has given machinery legal standing, maybe they should’ve just arrested any car found in flagrante delito in the act of not being driven at rush hour…

Of course, that wasn’t the point. They were there to ensure the plan didn’t work by mucking up traffic with a bunch of slow moving Armored Personnel Carriers…with the added bonus of freaking the hell out of some drivers, who saw all the military hubbub and figured a coup was in the works!

The government’s attempt to sabotage Capriles’s administration is so obvious, so transparent, so small-minded, it’s hard to even know where to start. In a city that sees 10 murders on a typical week day, we have dozens – if not hundreds – of security personnel tasked with…creating traffic jams!

Simply mad.