Venezuelan Government Expropriates Ferry Company

Mérida, September 28th 2011 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – On Monday Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced the expropriation of the company Consolidada de Ferrys (Conferry), following its record of bad service and high prices, and the need for more reliable transportation to Margarita Island.

Conferry had a monopoly on ferry transport between the Venezuelan mainland and Margarita Island, a service that will now be run by the government. The expropriation is applicable as of 28 September 2011, having been printed in today’s Official Gazette.

Chavez said the expropriation was necessary due to a number of irregularities and low quality of service. Last month the Institute for the Defence of People’s Access to Goods and Services (Indepabis) applied a one month sanction to Conferry for over selling and for delays.

“Enough already, the Conferry ferries are a disaster,” said Chavez on VTV on Monday.

According to YVKE Mundial, Conferry would change itineraries without warning, sold food at “exorbitant” prices and under unhealthy conditions, and its toilets were dirty. There was also a serious lack of seating, with many passengers sleeping or travelling on the floor.

Return fairs for the two hour journey on the slower fairy were Bs157.30/Bs 125.30 (US$36.60, US$29.10) for adults in first and tourist class, and roughly half that for children and people over 60.

The expropriation measure applies to all of Conferry’s capital, which includes seven ferries - four fast ones and three conventional ones - the terminals, as well as everything related to information and administration of the company

Chavez explained that Venezuelan Vice President Elias Jaua is in charge of the expropriation process, including locating the damaged or unused ferries and assessing the fares. Jaua announced yesterday that he had chosen an administration board for the company, which will include the transport minister Francisco Garces, commander of the Bolivarian National Navy, Diego Molero, and tourism minister Alejandro Fleming.

“The nationalisation of Conferry will bring a new model of maritime transport to Venezuela. Strategically, it’s important that the state participates in the use of such an important means of mass transport,” said ex defence minister Orlando Maniglia, speaking on YVKE Mundial radio.

Maniglia said the expropriation was a chance to modernise the ferry system and to create special ramps for the arrival and departure of both public and navy boats. It was also a chance to improve national tourism to Margarita Island.

“Now we’ll really start to uncover things with Conferry, as until now it hasn’t been known who the original owners of this consolidated company were,” Maniglia said, calling the “monopoly” that Conferry had “chaotic”.

Conferry workers’ rights will be protected, states today’s Official Gazette, and “the participation of workers will be carried out in an organised way”.

Americo Morillo, a Caracas resident, told YVKE Mundial, “I’ve been informed that in general, the ferries weren’t working, and it seems unfair to me because it’s the only way that people ... have to get to Margarita. If the action [of expropriation] benefits the people, it seems correct to me, because [Conferries] were functioning very badly”.

Other residents told YVKE that “Conferry was abusive with its prices,” and the company “had many accidents”.

Omaira Alcalá said, “I’m from the west [where the departure port is] and I often suffered, as the majority who travel to Margarita have suffered the disaster of the ferries, waiting many hours to board, exorbitant prices, and they don’t comply with the basic sea travel requirements... I totally agree with the expropriation”.

Fedecameras, the main chamber of commerce in Venezuela and participant in the 2002 unsuccessful coup against Chavez, opposed the expropriation saying it “damaged the economy” and was “disrespectful of the right to property”.

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