Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The environment gets a little better and a little worse 

Venezuela historically has had significant environmental problems. From contaminated air and water to rubbish seemingly everwhere Venezuela has never been known as “green” country. And while it would be nice to be able to say the Chavez administration is improving things the truth is their record is a mixed one. Today gave more evidence of that.

On the positive side of the ledger we have the changes taking place in PDVSA.Despite all the non-sense about PDVSA being so well run under the previous management it was always an environmental disaster. Incapable of properly producing unleaded gasoline Venezuela has suffered from horrendous auto emissions. And so inept was the old PDVSA that Venezuelan gasoline was actually banned from the United States by the E.P.A. in the mid 90’s. Worse still, to make way for oil tankers Lake Maracaibo was connected to the ocean thereby turning it into a saline wasteland, pipelines blew up with some regularity, incinerating anyone unfortunate enough to be near it (and an act of complete stupidity pipelines were built right along side major roadways), and oil spills, such as the one that ruined the coral reefs off of one of Venezuela’s best beaches, Chichiriviche, were a frequent occurance .

Fortunately, the Chavez administration is at least getting PDVSA turned around. For example, leaded gasoline was finally phased out this year. This is a significant accomplishment that the “meritocracy” that formerly ran PDVSA never seemed capable of. And taking things further today Venezuela announced it would spend $70 million to set up a petrochemical factory to make a gasoline additive called isooctane. This is a cleaner alternative to other additives that create significant amounts of pollution. This additive will not only be used in the U.S. market which is starting to require it but also in the domestic Venezuelan market to further improve the quality of its gasoline and improve the environment. Good news, to be sure.

Unfortunately, what the right hand gives the left hand gives away. Venezuela has a huge problem with garbage that is not removed and properly disposed of. Caracas being a large city, this is a particularly acute problem there. Yet nothing seems to solve it – not people complaining for years, not Chavez giving the mayor a tongue lashing, nor even paying people to collect there own litter. Presently parts of western Caracas have gone for four days with out garbage collection. You can imagine how unpleasent that is and the pictures below should serve to give some idea of how out of hand the problem is.

The only governmental response seems to be to point fingers and blame others. Some even blamed the recent heavy rains as if a problem that has gone on for years could be blamed on the events of the past few days or weeks.

Right now the government seems at a loss for what to do. But it better not stay that way for long. A situation as intolerable as this cannot be allowed to go on. And it sure is sad to see the good workd being done by half of the government being undone by the other half.


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