Photo: mapio.net

Back in 1912, a massive drought forced thousands of people away from the Paraguaná peninsula, the northernmost point of the country, separated from the rest of Falcón by a thin strip of land. They walked through the Médanos de Coro (Coro Dunes), a majestic, inhospitable patch of sand brought by the Trade Winds directly from the Sahara, occupying most of Paraguaná’s isthmus. Many died devoured by sand, and their benevolent spirits —the Ánimas de Guasare are still remembered and revered.

It might be time to pray to the ánimas again, since problems have piled up and the dunes threaten to consume Troncal 4, the only motorway connecting Paraguaná with the rest of the country.

Building a highway in the middle of a dune-filled desert is hard, but keeping it functional is strenuous. To stop the dunes from piling up on the highway, a small fleet of heavy Caterpillar trucks is needed to regularly push the sand out of the road. A simple, yet vital task that the regional chavista government is responsible for, and in which it has failed.

I talked to Valeria, a friend from the peninsula currently living in Mérida, to get a glimpse on the situation: “I lived in Paraguaná for years, and I regularly visit my family there. I found the road blocked once, due to heavy rain, years ago. Now, that’s normal.”

Video: Adriana Vega

Blocked roads have been reported for years, but the situation grabbed the nation’s attention for the first time last August, when the initial portion of the road was completely swallowed by dunes. Last April, in a scene taken directly from Mad Max, a PDVSA truck heading to the barely functional Amuay Refinery got stuck blocking traffic for hours. Last week, just as the government-run International Tourism Fair of Venezuela publicized the médanos on Twitter; the road was buried again.

And life in Paraguaná was already hard, man. Public services are practically non-existent, with access to clean water being particularly bad: “The last time we got running water at the house was about five years ago,” Valeria tells me. “Now Hidrofalcón only connects it during electoral campaigns.” Her family must pay about nine minimum wages for water trucks, and have completely given up hope on keeping their small garden alive.

Problems with the water supply come from an outdated pipe system that can no longer serve the population, even though a $500 million aqueduct was inaugurated in 2009. Nonetheless, it stopped working a couple months later. The electric grid, public transportation and garbage collection services have also collapsed, sparking a series of small protests.

Regional economy looks like what you’d expect: Amuay and Cardón refineries (the largest refining complex in the country) have the combined capacity to process almost a million oil barrels a day, but after chronic underinvestment, and an explosion in 2012 that left 35 casualties, the industry collapsed. Today, Amuay only refines about 130,000 barrels per day. And let’s not talk about tourism: the beaches that hosted the 2012 Kitesurf World Championship are now deserted and littered.

As Leo, my cousin who recently moved to Mérida from the peninsula, described in a family lunch last week: “I was waiting for a bus that never came in downtown Punto Fijo when I saw a huge line outside a supermarket. The dude next to me told me they were waiting for a truck, which I thought was a food truck. A few minutes later, I saw the people in the crowd throw themselves into a trash truck. Kids were fighting for bags of trash and not-completely-rotten food.”

Just like in 1912, people risk their lives to escape Paraguaná, but this time they do it on boats headed to Aruba and Curaçao.

“Paraguaná is an empty desert now,” Valeria says.

A desert where ghosts care more about people than the government ever will.

Photo: Adriana Vega
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16 COMMENTS

  1. “The last time we got running water at the house was about five years ago,” Valeria tells me. “Now Hidrofalcón only connects it during electoral campaigns.”

    Priceless

    • “The last time we got running water at the house was about five years ago,” Valeria tells me. “Now Hidrofalcón only connects it during electoral campaigns.”

      And the Hidrofalcón people think what? That El Pueblo will forget about the 5 years without water, and vote for the “Hidrofalcón candidate”?

      Is Hidrofalcón correct in thinking that? That El Pueblo can only think about today, and forget yesterday?

  2. Punto Fijo will always exist–running contraband to/from nearby Aruba/Curacao (now also illegal Ven. immigrants to) in peneros.

  3. Jesus… I remember visiting the place long ago – my brother was doing his “pasantía” at Cardón. Didnt see much of the towns, but at least the damn road was functional (even if we were stopped by the GN for the usual give me something…) and the refinery the same.

    It is just amazing how much they have destroyed by incompetence, malice and corruption. And if they arent out soon, it may be even impossible or worthless to repair.

  4. Speaking of wastelands, the link to a story in Colombia Reports. If Venezuela were to indeed start bombing key targets in Colombia Miraflores would soon look like the picture above. Who knows, maybe Maduro would elect to go with a “scorched earth” policy in the event of a U.S. attack leaving as little usable infrastructure in place as possible .

    • I got a good laugh out of the PSUV moron who “telegraphed” the plan for war with Colombia. “Our Sukhoi’s will bomb 7 bridges in Colombia, cutting it in half!”

      Woot! The Colombian military (supplied by Uncle), hardened by 50 years of fighting in the jungle with FARC and ELN, confronted by 4000+ highly decorated Venezuelan generals (chests sashed, and laden with medals for ?) and thousands more scrawny recruits sent out to teach their neighbors a lesson!

      Not going to happen. Maduro might try to pull a last gasp effort on the Guyanese, but it would definitely be a true last gasp.

      God, I love to read fake bravado! I only wish he would have grabbed a sword (Bolivars!) and dared Uncle to step one foot on Venezuela.

      • @ElGuapo…yep it would be a last gasp effort indeed if Maduro decided to get all froggy with Guyana….would be a perfect excuse to go “take out the trash”. Surely even Maduro is not that stupid! Lol.

  5. the only ones who don’t get that the Chavista’s are vastly overmatched to run a country are the Chavista’s themselves. Of course at this point – or all along for that matter – they have never been a genuine government, rather a kind of revolutionary gang acting as a fifedom, bilking the population as the infrastructure founders. And Tom’s link — as though if there were ever a US invasion, the Venezuelan Air Force would be free to bomb Columbia. Guys are drinking the bong water…

    • 1. No US invasion.

      2. In the alternative universe where the US does attack Venezuela, it would be such a Venezuela clusterfuck that the only thing getting airborne would be tiny pieces of Venezuela military types as they huddled under their desks near the hangers where the Sukhoi’s are… “waiting for orders from above”.

      “MAJOR ORTEGA! CAN YOU HEAR ME?! IT IS ME, GENERAL LOPEZ! YES! DEPLOY THE 2063 BATTALION WITH THE AK-47’s AND THE NUCLEAR PAYLOAD (line stolen from the movie Major Payne!) TO GREET THE COWARDLY YANQUI’S AT THE BEACHES, AND I WILL BE THERE… Uh… WAITING HERE FOR THE REPORTS OF GLORIOUS VICTORY!

      Viva Chavez!” {{{insert sounds of military uniform being buried in a field}}}

  6. @Juan Largo…I agree. Don’t think an attack will happen in the first place but if it did there would be assets in place ahead of time to protect Colombian targets. The Suhkois would be destroyed before getting close to the targets. I think all the U.S. and LatAm need do is wait and watch the Bolivarian Revolution consign itself to to the scrap heap of history.

  7. Juan Largo, “over matched”? I agree the Chavistas are as you say over matched in running Venezuela. But that is not their goal. Their goal is control until they have destroyed the last vestieges of democracy and capitalism. That may explain the disconnect between Chavistas and their opponents. Their opponents look at traditional indicia of a functioning economy. The Chavistas wish to destroy the existing economy. Right now they are in the destruction phase and so far they are not overmatched in maintaining control.

  8. Hey!

    CC got their wish!

    The U.S. isn’t going to invade! Because that goes against some fucked up anti-Imperialist mindset that these morons just can’t shake off!

    Enjoy your deaths and suffering, and I pray your families also enjoy this death and suffering.

    What a bunch of fucking idiots you are.

  9. Look at who said it, the same guy that claimed DIRECTV boxes were used by the US govmt to spy on people.

    Some years ago, Chavez “sent” tanks to the border, only to break down at La Encrucijada. Back then the soldiers could afford to grab a pernil sándwich, so they did.

    There have been reports of misile trucks moving around Maracaibo, but again, there’s 100% buffoonery afoot- nothing else.

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