Stormy weather ahead

In an economy sustained by imports and where the industrial park and domestic production are in marked decline, the existence of a shaky port service portends stormy weather ahead. Increases in prices and shortages of essential goods are just a couple of the ills that can be forecast.

In the days of the 4th Republic, it occurred to President Carlos Andrés Pérez to privatize the majority of the services at Venezuela’s ports. This not only cleaned up the corruption that was beleaguering them, but it also made for more efficient and effective procedures and operations.

With Hugo Chávez’ coming to office and his overwhelming determination to abolish all private enterprise, the government once again took over the ports. This time, government intervention came in by the back door. For more than a year now, companies providing port services of different kinds and with considerable experience have been arbitrarily and illegally replaced by companies whose best reference is that they are friends of government officials. So, corruption, inefficiency and inefficacy have made their way back to the ports.
A few days ago, the evening paper Tal Cual published a report on the poor loading and unloading services that importers have to put up with. This is surely a paradox in a country where importing has practically become a matter of national security, giving the vital role it plays in keeping up the flow of supplies of essential inputs and products.

 

The main problems found in the 14 port authorities include the presence of an excessive number of workers, delays caused by technological glitches and appalling maintenance of the wharves. But perhaps most serious of all are the problems in dredging, coastal trading, port administration and storage at two of the country’s major ports, Puerto Cabello and La Guaira.

At La Guaira, for example, the necessary dredging has not been done, which prevents large vessels from docking, thus forcing them to transship their cargo on one of the islands in the Caribbean or in Panama, which significantly increases costs and the time shipments take.

Since the collapse of Viaduct No. 1 on the Caracas-La Guaria Freeway, Puerto Cabello has been receiving a larger volume of cargo, which, added to the lack of administration and organization, is causing congestion and delays, as well as increased freight costs.

Apart from all that, there are only three private vessels for domestic coastal trading. And of these three, only one has the capacity and operational ability to do the run between ports, as a consequence of which it breaks down frequently. The other two have very little capacity and one of them is very old and is out of service for long periods of time.

Moreover, the lack of investment by the private storage companies -the service where friends of the government have managed to penetrate most- has resulted in the deterioration of and reduction in the number of cranes and elevators, whose efficiency has fallen by as much as 50%.

Even though the high season is about to start on June 15, in recent months all the ills the ports are suffering from have gone from bad to worse. The recommendation is to prepare for stormy weather in September-October, as clouds are forming Venezuela’s horizon.

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