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Thu Nov 29, 2012, 08:22 PM


Venezuela’s ports. Cancelling Christmas

THOSE who claim to deplore the commercialisation of Christmas should move to Venezuela. Seasonal products, from Christmas trees to toys, trinkets and delicacies, are piled up in the country’s ports, thanks to inefficient, congested wharves and a dramatic increase in imports. Retailers have no idea when they will take delivery of their goods. Importers and customs agents complain that a government emergency plan has so far failed to ease the delays much.

Nearly four years ago Hugo Chávez, Venezuela’s leftist president, took over control of the ports from regional governments. Private handling companies were nationalised, so far without compensation. The ports are now jointly run by a state company, Bolipuertos (with a 51% stake), and an outfit called Asport, owned by the Cuban government, a close ally of Mr Chavez. Curiously, Cuba—hardly the Singapore of the Americas—is also paid to “advise” Venezuela on port operations.

At the time of the government takeover, Venezuela’s economy was entering a two-year recession, which cut the flow of imports. But this year saw a binge in public spending ahead of an election in October in which Mr Chávez won another six-year term. In the first nine months of the year, imports totalled more than $40 billion, up from $27.4 billion in the same period of 2010. Most come as bulk cargoes and containers that arrive by sea.

Business people say that port infrastructure has deteriorated since the nationalisation, thanks to poor maintenance and inexperienced management, adding to the time that ships must wait offshore. Last week ten ships were anchored off La Guaira and 18 off the country’s main port, Puerto Cabello. Since then, the Bolipuertos web page that gives such figures has been off-line “for maintenance”. To add to the problem, La Guaira is operating at only two-thirds of its normal capacity while the port builds a new container terminal, intended to handle trade with Mercosur, the trade bloc which Venezuela recently joined.


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