Nick Miroff of the Washington Post revisited a Venezuelan dream: the Ciudad Guyana. It was a modernist planned city in the wilderness. “President Rómulo Betancourt, a key partner in John F. Kennedy’s “Alliance for Progress,” founded the city in 1961, inviting his countrymen to turn Ciudad Guayana into a tropical Pittsburgh.” It was a monument to the kind of progress that was in vogue in the 1960s. Instead it became a kind of tropical Detroit. The Washington Post writes:
When it was founded, Ciudad Guayana and its state-run heavy industries were Venezuela’s best hope for breaking the country’s overwhelming dependence on crude oil exports. It had all the right ingredients: iron ore, bauxite and gold; timber and farmland; and huge rivers to supply cheap hydropower for smelters and factories.
Planners from MIT and Harvard came to lay out the streets. Loans from the World Bank helped finance the dams. The city grew to more than a million residents.
The steelmaking company at the core of the Ciudad Guayana project, Sidor, produced a record 4.3 million tons before it was nationalized by Chávez in 2008.
Today, most of its furnaces sit cold, deprived of raw materials, new technology and reliable labor. The last contract for its 14,000 steelworkers expired four years ago.
Today steelworkers who once earned enough to buy a new car on 3 month’s wages can hardly feed themselves. They have a guaranteed income, though. “Despite repeated strikes and work stoppages, the government has continued to pay salaries at the aging plant, including for more than 2,000 union officials who draw wages but don’t produce an ounce of steel.” But there’s nothing you can buy with it and nowhere to go.