By Jeremy Morgan
Latin American Herald Tribune staff
CARACAS – The government of France has said it wants to help Venezuela to clean up the Guaire, a rather less than glorious river that runs through this capital and which has been plagued by pollution of one sort or another for years.
Venezuelan Environment Deputy Minister Cristóbal Francisco said French experts would assist in locating possible sites for treatment plants along the course of the river.
Because these plants were to be located in urban areas, he added, they would have to be “friendly from a visual point of view” as well as in terms of smells and noise. One possibility he mentioned was to build a processing plant at Los Teques, the capital of Miranda state south of Greater Caracas.
The cost of carrying out a project to clean up the Rio Guaire has been estimated at BsF450 million, or approximately $209 million at the current official exchange rate of BsF2.15 to the dollar.
In aesthetic terms, the Guaire could not for even the briefest moment be deemed on a par with the silvery beauty of the Seine or the quiet serenity of the Tiber, nor the slow majesty of the Thames. Caracas is located in a valley, surrounded by mountains and the rainfall flows down into what is left of the river through some of the less salubrious areas of the metropolis.
On the contrary, visually it amounts to not much more than a canalized large ditch of brown muddy water meandering through parts of the city. Most people don’t even give it a look as they rush in their cars over bridges.
The Guaire is by no means recommended as the place for a romantic picnic or quiet and relaxing riverbank stroll on a balmy Sunday afternoon – and this is not just because large stretches of it sum up to an unprepossessing visual experience, uncared-for and littered with garbage of one sort or another that one associates with a drainage ditch.
Stretches of the river bank have acquired a grim notoriety in recent years, as have so many other parts of the city. Those who do choose to take a riverside stroll could run the risk of coming across the dead body of a man – or, worse still, even end up as one.
By a rough reckoning, something approaching a dozen bodies, many showing clear signs of death by foul means, have been discovered on or near the banks of the river in recent years.
While some of the dead were identified as hobos and tramps, and possibly victims of fighting among their own ilk, others were thought to have been victims of gangland feuding. None of the cases has been resolved, and it remains to be seen whether the French clean-up plan includes doing something about law and order, or the lack it.