Late in the afternoon of April 29th, the Merida Cable Car system (teleférico) was formally re-opened. Well, I say “re”-opened, but an anthropologist from Mars who knows about Planet Earth only by what he reads on TeleSur could be forgiven for thinking the thing was entirely new: the official announcement simply vanished all evidence that there was ever a Teleférico in Mérida before last week…just another little case of #OrwellianismoEndógeno.

In fact, of course, the Mérida Cable Car had been there since 1960, it’s just that the original infrastructure was on its last leg, so the system had to be be closed down back in 2008. (In the event, teleSUR was almost right: the new system really is a new cable-car more so than a refurbished one. But still.)

Tourism Minister Marleny Contreras (she who is married to God-given) personally presided over the event on cadena nacional, under the supervision of Nicolas Maduro, who preferred to use the capital’s own teleférico and supervise the renovation works on the Humboldt Hotel located on the Ávila.

With this re-launch, Maduro pushed the idea that Venezuela should become “a tourism powerhouse” in order to diversify the economy.  He mentioned again and again that tourism will allow Venezuela to secure foreign currency the government and the people really need.

But seems like the event didn’t have the media impact Maduro hoped for. One week later, he was still complaining that neither national nor even local Merida outlets cover the news at all.

From the news perspective, Maduro faced a big problem: the signature drive to launch the recall referendum was getting all the attention, to the point that he mentioned it in the very same cadena, creating a special commission in order to “review every signature, one by one”.

The claim that Merida outlets didn’t cover the teleférico re-opening isn’t true. I was there, local papers and channels reported it. The thing is that at the time, Merida residents were busy lining-up outside supermarkets or struggling with their share of four-hour blackouts.  Some locals didn’t even know the reopening was happening. It was a real shock.

On April 29th, I was in Merida. As I went downtown, everyday life was busy as usual. The only ones who seemed at all clued-in about the event were a group of public employees who came out to support it and a small student protest in Los Andes University (ULA) against a possible Maduro visit.

But the other problem is that the highly-touted re-opening has been delayed for years and years.  When the teleférico was closed in 2008, then Tourism Minister Titina Azuaje promised that it would be ready in 18 months. No luck. Her successor Alejandro Fleming promised first in 2011 and later in 2012 that everything will be ready for 2013. No dice. Then Fleming’s successor Andres Izarra promised that all would be wrapped up for 2014 (first for July, then for December). The opening was delayed again for 2015. Then Izarra’s replacement Marleny Contreras said that 2016 would be the year. In the end, it only took five Tourism Ministers.

For those who want to get tickets to Merida and ride again to Pico Espejo right away, all I can say is: not so fast. The teleférico is not fully opened to the public yet. Instead, the system is now in a “pre-commercial” stage. Pre-selected groups will be enjoying the cable car for the next twelve weeks, according to State newspaper Correo del Orinoco.  

Like Willie Bank’s casino in Ocean’s 13, it’s having a soft opening, to test the place before the grand opening. Of course the Teleférico doesn’t run on pixie-dust, it runs on electricity, and the government has already announced that it won’t be spared from the nationwide electricity rationing plan already in place, so there’s that.

During the April 29th re-opening, Maduro stressed in that this teleférico is completely new. That is hardly surprising, as it builds on the legacy of the Comandante Eterno of rebooting all aspects of the country related to the B.C.-era (Before Chavez). They even gave it a new name, Mukumbarí.  Let’s not forget that they even tried to change Merida State’s name several years ago.

Regardless of all the troubles, one part of me is really happy that the teleférico is once again up and running. Back in the late 80s, I went all the way to the top and it’s one of the best moments of my childhood. I have a picture in my living room as proof. As I saw the cable cars going up and down again the day after the opening, my heart felt content. I hope that I can ride it again soon.

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  1. I was in Merida in June 2012 and Jan 2013 and I was so disappointed that it wasn’t open. I’m sure it was a beautiful view from the top. Glad to see it’s finally open.

  2. Went there as a kid , shared a car with a very stiff, very reserved , self absorved gringo and his charming talkative middled aged Venezuelan lady companion , (he was more interested in his pipe than in the scenery) we got to talking to her and she revealed (in hushed tones) that she had been paid by a company to accompany the american gentleman to see the sights ……!! About a year later a very bad Hollywood film was released purporting to represent Bolivars heroic fight for Venezuelan independence…….the actor playing the part of Bolivar was the gentleman we saw sitting at the cable car, I believe the actor’s name was Charlton Heston .!! Seem to remember he also appeared in some fancy grandiose movies of the time , the 10 Commandments ??, then for years every time we went to Merida the cable car was shut down for repairs……The high point of the ride for most of our venezuelan companions was not to see the sights (which were spectacular) but to see ‘real snow’ at the peak and make believe that they were in some kind of american winter landscape playing with the snow…… !! They dressed as if they were going to experience the harshest of artic winters……!!

    Doesnt surprise me that the regime’s PR machine is trying to sell the notion that they built the teleferico from scratch and that no teleferico existed before . they are always playing the role of being the inventors of the modern world . In actual fact the new teleferico used a lot of the installations of the old teleferico , otherwise we would still be waiting for its re inauguration 10 more years , the new teleferico is actually the work of a world class cable car manufacturers of austrian nationality , all the regime did was pay them (probably with a lot of delays). So lets see it also as an example of the best in European technical expertise…!!

    • Really,

      Chavismo’s tourism policy is as consistent as a Tom & Jerry chase.

      The closest, hard currency spending tourist are from El Imperio. Silly government demands in-person interviews with some Chavista hack and a payment of $160 per gringo. Mexico, Costa Rica, Peru have no visa requirement. Reciprocidad!! they say.

      Then there is the appeal of visiting a place that ranks as more violent than any place save Syria.

      Then there are the shortages of all kind of stuff, so best you not forget your tooth paste when you depart and other personal hygiene items.

      Heck, even the contingent of Venezuelans in the diaspora have no desire to visit!!!

      • I’m sure the tourism ministry knows it’s all complete nonsense. Remember when they used the picture of the American free lance journalist who had been held in jail and interrogated on the cover of one of their tourism brochures? Truly absurd, in a sad and twisted way.

  3. The last time I rode that Teleferico was precisely in 2008. A couple days later we heard it had been shut down for “temporary repairs”.

    I wonder if it has suffered the same fate as its cousin in the capital. That Teleferico went through so many “we ordered the wrong cable from Germany” episodes that it became obvious the purchase was all about “commissions” and not actual repairs!

    • A persistent point of frustration with every time I’ve been to Merida to visit family is that the two must-visit things for a gringo, the Teleferico and the Heladeria Coromoto, are always closed. The first has been broken down for years and the latter is always closed due to the “season”, “dairy shortage”, obscure holiday or some other silly reason.

      Fortunately, I’ve always been able to drown my woes in a nice pizza at Federicos or a San Antonio at La Abadia.

  4. That they finally got this done when all else, including the power source, has fallen apart around it, and announce this as some great accomplishment, is another monumental tribute to the arrogance, insularity, stupidity and incompetence of this regime.

  5. Thanks for sharing the story. Charlton Heston as Bolívar? I missed that one. Regarding delays, I wonder if delays in payment were involved??? Here’s another story from yesteryear. My cousin, no relation to Charlton Heston, went to go up the “teléferico de Mérida” in the 70’s, but when he got there, late perhaps, wasn’t able to get a ticket that day. There were several shoe shine boys around, so he ended up getting a shine. He struck up a conversation with the young boy, and asked if had ever been up to the top of the mountain. To which the boy replied, “No”. My cousin offered to take him up the following day and pay his fare, as long as he could be there by 9am. The boy eagerly said “yes”, at which point my cousin realized, the boy didn’t own a watch. My cousin then offered him his watch to keep time. Mind you, it wasn’t an expensive watch, but it was certainly before $10 watches had come onto the scene. He was well aware, that he might not see his watch again. Nevertheless, my cousin arrived the next morning and there was the young boy waiting, no shoe shine box but watch in hand. Not sure if my cousin still owns the watch, but in all likelihood, like the Venezuela of today, it has stopped ticking.

  6. I sent the first comment on this article this morning but was not posted. As it is not the first time it happens, this is the last comment I send to CC. Sorry,
    Gustavo Coronel

    • Dr Coronel, lots of people in this blog are always interested in what you have to say, Im one of them , I dont know why they didnt post your comment but perhaps there was a technical glitch of some kind , every so often some of my comments somehow get lost too (or so I assumme) , so I just wait a while and post them again at which time they appear . I do hope to keep reading your very incisive comments if not here in your own excellent blog …!!

  7. I went a few weeks ago to the base station and it was amazing. Very well executed, with a modern design, great stores and good restaurants. Of course there were some propaganda of our comandante supremo and our presidente obrero, but overall it looks very good.

    That being said, it was my understanding that it’s been ready a long time but the austrians who built it would not operate it since, surprise surprise they had been paid in full. I wonder what happened because I am pretty sure that no payments were forthcoming. Unless Izarra got some remorse and gave back some of the $200 Million he supposedly ran off to Berlin with.


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