Rebars and Cement Thieves Destroy What’s Left of Caracas

The Venezuelan crisis affects every sphere of everyday life and it’s not strange that, in a city where there’s less and less of everything, it’s impossible to find construction supplies. The result? Decay and vandalism.

Photo: La Patilla retrieved

The theft of construction supplies has become normal all over the country for the past several years. Whether it’s abandoned buildings, unattended, unfinished constructions or transport trucks and private providers, chances are it’s all gonna get stolen. There are multiple causes behind this, like the shortage of materials, their steep prices and opportunism.

Many of the robbers do this to build, finish or expand their homes, which tend to be shacks or very rural buildings in precarious environments, while others steal to sell the rebars, cement and other supplies obtained illegally and dangerously, in what we could call the construction business’ black market.

Whether it’s abandoned buildings, unattended, unfinished constructions or transport trucks and private providers, chances are it’s all gonna get stolen.

We visited various hardware stores in western Caracas over the course of two weeks between September 24 and October 10, 2018, to give you an idea of the prices on some construction supplies. None of the places we visited sold cement. In fact, one of the sellers in a small hardware store, in a low-income area, said that he hasn’t seen a cement pack in a year and a half. Several stores have ½ and ⅜ rebars, as well as sand and other mixes. On average, the ½ rebar’s price (they’re six meters long) was Bs.S. 460, the ⅜ rebar was Bs.S. 380 and the pack of sand (21 kilos), Bs.S. 1,200. Note that we use “was” because with rampant hyperinflation, prices don’t usually last more than two weeks. They will have doubled or tripled by the time this piece is published.

In the neighborhood of La Vega, where Cementera La Vega used to operate, it’s common to hear a constant hammering every hour of every day. The thud of a sledgehammer against concrete walls and men yelling while pulling rebars out of half-broken walls, are all part of the cement factory’s dismantling, carried out for years now. Some structures are already skeletons, while others are just recently destroyed.

These ruins, mind you, are within a residential neighborhood, right beside a road used by citizens daily. The community is severely annoyed by the presence of strangers, the permanent noise and the possibility of these structures collapsing at any moment.

In an informal conversation with a small group of rebar thieves, they told me that there are indeed people who sell the extracted rebars, but they couldn’t give me any prices because they didn’t know; they claim their situation is different, because they use those materials to build their homes and they didn’t have to pay others when they could extract the supplies themselves, with their own hands. And that, right there, is the portrait of our country: Why respect someone else’s turn when I can go first? Why buy food or goods when I can steal? Why work and earn a salary if it pays nothing and working illegally (with impunity) is far more profitable?

Why take the straight road when the crooked one is better?