Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Crumbling Infrastructures: Buenos Aires, Caracas

article from February 25, 2012
By Jamie Douglas

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Ash Wednesday in Buenos Aires turned out to be a very tragic day. A fully loaded commuter train with over 2,000 porteños on board suffered a suspected mechanical failure in its brake system, slamming into the end-of-the-line barrier at the Once station in the capital city, with devastating results. Fifty dead and 650 injured – ¡que horror! – a very inappropriate end to the Carnival festivities, although not altogether unexpected.

The infrastructure of the city of Buenos Aires has been crumbling since the 1980s, but the bottom really fell out during the last financial crisis when Argentina defaulted on its sovereign debt. Looking at the photos and videos of this catastrophe, I was astonished to discover that the rolling stock looked to be from about 1950s or 60s and in very bad shape, even just look at. Buenos Aires has become somewhat of a dangerous eyesore, where you are not safe in the best of neighborhoods anymore.

Those of us who always admired the city as “the Paris of South America” now look at it as a crumbling city, a city where you can still look up at the beautiful facades of those magnificent edifices built in the 1920s; but while looking up and admiring that, be careful, because the sidewalks are hazards to your health. There are not just cracks, but holes and missing manhole covers – and you really have to be very careful where your next step will take you, as there are so many dogs that use the sidewalks as their toilet.

Then there are all the homeless sleeping and living in the entryways to abandoned businesses. And whatever you do, exercise extreme caution when using an ATM. It’s not that robbers in Buenos Aires are very sophisticated; in fact, they are quite clumsy, spilling a drink on you or dropping mud from a balcony to cause a major distraction, or dropping something in front of you, trying to take advantage of the Good Samaritan in you so they can grab your wallet, purse or bags. The current economic downturn has led to a lack of public safety, with the federal police abandoning their patrol duties on the subway and trains, leaving that to the local police, who are either part of the criminal gangs or not present at all.

So for those of you contemplating moving to Buenos Aires, be aware. Crime is surging, inflation is over 25%, and public confidence has reached new lows. It was only a couple of weeks ago that a well-known French photographer was stabbed to death at 8:30 in the morning, in a very populated and “safe” section of town, the park dedicated to the Falklands War Veterans in Retiro. ...it makes the photographer in me want to leave that part of my life behind. Whenever I stepped out while in Buenos Aires with my Nikon camera, the people at the front desk of my hotel would warn me, shopkeepers would warn me and waiters in restaurants would have me hide my equipment. Fortunately, we were always very aware of our surroundings. And when the guy came by with a huge key ring and dropped it at my feet, it was me who kept a local from running after him. It was such an obvious attempt to separate us from our luggage in front of the hotel that it was almost laughable. Jajaja!

Caracas, Venezuela

In Caracas (how similar that sounds to carcass!), Venezuela’s Clown Prince is now following his destiny, which looks to be an appointment with Mr. D. After denying rumors about having The Big “C,” he just announced that a new lesion of about 2 centimeters had been discovered in an undisclosed location “near his pelvis,” where surgeons in Cuba last June had removed a baseball-sized malignant tumor, and after a few rounds of chemotherapy he had declared himself to be cancer free. Hallelujah!

Except that he is not. For the first time since his medical misadventures began, he openly stated that it was probably a malignant growth. Various experts in the field of his unknown cancer have previously stated that he in all likelihood suffers from Steve Jobism, which is denial of his terminal condition and the putting off of the immediate treatment of his disease. After all, a bull can only be a bull if he has his cajones; and now that a young, virile opposition leader has emerged, Henrique Capriles, the 39-year-old governor of Miranda State, the chances of Venezuela’s return to the civilized world are getting better with every moment that Chávez waits to have radical surgery. I do wish him well in his battle for life, but more importantly, I wish Venezuela only the best in its recovery from the years of darkness. Let there be light!

Jamie Douglas
San Rafael, Mendoza

I encourage you to write me at cruzansailor [at] gmail [dot] com with any questions or suggestions you may have. Disclaimer: I am not in any travel-related business. My advice is based on my own experiences and is free of charge (Donations welcome). It is always my pleasure to act as a beneficial counselor to those who are seekers of the next adventure.