CARACAS, Venezuela — Public services are failing. The power and water come on only intermittently in many cities. Hospitals and schools struggle to provide basic care. Now here’s another sign of Venezuela’s collapse: Thousands of cars lie abandoned in the streets. Caracas is a showroom of museum-worthy relics, models dating from the 1980s to the early 2000s, when manufacturing and imports here began to plummet. Some lack windows and tires. Some are covered in sheets, like corpses.
More than 1.5 million cars — 43 percent of Venezuela’s stock — were inactive or abandoned nationwide up to May this year, according to Omar Bautista, president of the Chamber of Venezuelan Automotive Producers. That percentage has doubled in two years.
Automobile manufacturing has followed the rest of the economy under the socialist government of President Hugo Chávez and now Nicolás Maduro: Production has fallen 99 percent since 2009, and halved over the past year to just 452 cars in 2019. Two thirds of working cars are at least 15 years old, but the industry is producing only 10 percent of the spare parts it did a decade ago.
In Caracas, these left-behind cars lie in slums and affluent neighborhoods alike, nostalgic symbols of the city’s tragic transformation from the culturally alive, avant-garde capital of an oil-rich nation to a gloomy, backward warren of shuttered businesses and vacant buildings.
After years of deep economic crisis, the socialist government has recently eased price controls and high import taxes, giving private companies some space to operate — at least for now. As millions of Venezuelans receive remittances from family members who have migrated, the country is undergoing what analysts call an “anarchic dollarization,” which has given some here a sense of relative wellness. Yet inflation is still among the highest in the world, thousands of children remain malnourished, and economists say GDP has contracted more than 30 percent this year.
Even for the lucky caraqueños who have been able to create their own little bubbles of normality, their oases to cope — private clubs, fancy restaurants, yoga studios, comedy shows — there’s no escape.
The minute they return to the street, they collide with inescapable reminders that this is no longer a normal city, and they’re no longer leading a normal life.
They’re in Caracas, where the subway barely works. Where teachers and pharmacists and doctors can hardly afford to fix their broken cars. Where 40 percent of the public bus system is inoperative and where passengers can hardly pay the fare anyway.
Where abandoned cars haunt the ruined streets like ghosts, vestiges of what once was.
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