Although it is true that the businessmen of Nueva Esparta have very high expectations in the recovery of cruise tourism and that they are very focused on the benefits granted by the Law of Special Economic Zones, they consider it appropriate to urge Nicolás Maduro’s regime to restore or return some assets that were expropriated at some other time.
Gabriel Briceño, First Vice president of Fedecámaras Nueva Esparta, made special reference to the “Puerto de la Mar” cruise ship pier, expropriated by then-President Hugo Chávez in 2010.
“It is a spectacular pier, which was designed with the expectation to develop the commercial center of Porlamar, which is quite depressed due to all the conflicts we have had such as the pandemic, hyperinflation, labor desertion and a number of variables that caused that area to deteriorate and the closure of many businesses,” pointed out the business leader.
He insisted that taking advantage of the beginning of the year 2023, it is opportune to urge a step forward, as a gesture of good faith, and relations with private property be strengthened, that they return this project and other properties to their original owners, and grant new concessions to entrepreneurs willing to invest in this area.
Mr. Briceño stressed that it must be very clear that the port of “El Guamache” is a cargo dock, and although it may be prepared to receive cruise ships, it does not provide the appropriate conditions that a cruise ship operator requires when berthing in a Caribbean port.
He remarked that when talking about restitution and return of assets, it means to the owners who were not compensated, all the assets that were expropriated without complying with due process, where public utility (public need, imminent domain) is declared and the owners are compensated.
“It would be a gesture of good faith and good intentions to strengthen the tourism industry and strengthen trust, mainly so that new capital wants to come to invest in the “Nueva Esparta” economy.”
The leader assured that there are good intentions from many investors interested in taking part in these projects, but trust must be generated for the successful implementation of the Law of Special Economic Zones.
Salvador Núñez, former President of the Nueva Esparta Tourism Corporation, recalled that in the 2007-2008 season more than 140 cruise ships arrived on the island. There were even times when three and four ships docked on the same day at the same time, which somehow caused problems for importers, because the merchandise came by cabotage from Puerto Cabello and they could not unload the products.
The waiting costs of idle ships were charged to the importer for the period that the cruise ship remained at the El Guamache pier.
Expropriating For The People
On June 1st, 2010, through Decree No. 7,452, published in the Official Gazette No. 39,436, then-President Hugo Chávez ordered the forced acquisition of a plot of land and the goods that were on it, a property located within the jurisdiction of the Mariño Municipality of Nueva Esparta State, which belonged to the company Desarrollos Puerto de La Mar C.A.
Folco Riccio, President of Puerto de La Mar, which was expropriated by the National Executive, estimated that the measure left almost 7,000 people unemployed, including 700 direct workers, 3,000 indirect workers and another 3,000 “related”.
The presidential decree of expropriation determined that the headquarters of the “Universidad Bolivariana de Venezuela Nueva Esparta” would be built on the aforementioned lot.
Mr. Riccio then pointed out that the intervention meant the end of a process that began on October 1st, 2008. That day, in a proselytizing act, President Hugo Chávez promised that these facilities would no longer belong to the oligarchy, but rather “they were going back to the people”.
The facilities projected on the plot consisted of a citadel with a port, at the end of Raúl Guevara boulevard, destined to receive cruise ships that visit the Caribbean.
In 2012, Riccio denounced that after two years of suffering an invasion by the authorities and students of the Bolivarian University, the facilities were completely abandoned.
“Two years trying to clarify the situation. We fell into a political trap, since the company had not received a letter or a memorandum from the Government informing its decision (to expropriate),” he reported at the time.
He specified that what was expropriated was only the first phase of a much larger development plan, which would include a five-star hotel, a cultural and commercial area, and the construction of the coastal avenue that would connect the airport with Bolívar Avenue, through a express way that would skirt the sea.
Retrospective: From Aida to Amadea
A German cruise passenger, who was traveling on the Aida cruise ship, was murdered on February 7th, 2016 after refusing to hand over his camera. Horst Kurt Fritz Gold Hahm (76), was shot to death when he was buying souvenirs at the “La Aldea” Artisan Center, which was in front of the Sambil Shopping Center, and so “La Aldea” ended up closing after that tragic episode.
Also for this reason, the cruise company decided to eliminate the island of Margarita from its route. The cruise, which traveled through different Caribbean islands and with capacity for 2,500 passengers, had two visits left that year to the island, but the board of directors chose to change the package offered to clients.
Consequently, between 30,000 and 50,000 international tourists stopped coming each year through this port, reducing the income of the states of Nueva Esparta and Vargas (today La Guaira State).
The last cruise to dock was on May 26th, 2016 from La Guaira closing the season, and national tourists were not allowed to board to enjoy a tour of Caribbean ports, since the ship would not return to Venezuelan waters.
With this, the narrative of Nicolás Maduro’s regime and international shipping agencies is broken, insofar as the Amadea cruise ship that arrived at the port of “El Guamache” on January 3rd, purportedly is the first one that has docked in Margarita after 15 years. The truth is that it has really only been 7 years since the Aida cruise ship departed, never to return.
At that time, despite the fact that there was a marked reduction of calls at the Margarita cargo port, a total of 39 cruises were scheduled, of which 37 were carried out as a result of the murder of the German tourist.
No Security No Calls
A source closely linked to regional tourism activity, who preferred to keep his identity confidential, assured that all cruise operators are demanding that the Venezuelan State guarantee security to tourists so that they can travel to Margarita.
He made it clear that the experience of the ship Amadea, which touched the port of “El Guamache” on January 3rd, so far has only served to demonstrate that “yes it can happen, but it should not be said that cruise ships are back.”
“And during the events that were held in November, 80% of the programming for the years 2023 and 2024, are already prepared, and Venezuela is not included. The State has to come out to guarantee, as Colombia did on its occasion, when the Colombian President went to a convention in Miami and guaranteed security in the port of Cartagena, where the cruise ships dock, but it was only 10 years later when they are receiving scheduled cruises. again, more than 100 a year, but that is not in the agenda here,” the source pointed out.
In the case of the docking of the Amadea ship, he assured that this ship is going around the world, and on its route, the shipping company that operates it considered it appropriate to touch in Margarita, which, until now, is not a cruise route.
“It was a fortuitous touch and they offered the cruise line a number of advantages to come. If things are done right, Margarita could receive cruises between 2024 and 2025. The next convention will be held next February in Florida and there they will decide the agenda for next year,” the source said.
In addition, he emphasized that the conditions of the port of “El Guamache”, which is a cargo dock, must be compared with the cruise ship docks of the 10 islands closest to Margarita, such as the British Antigua, Bermuda, Barbados and Grenada, the which have much more attractive conditions.
Likewise, he recalled that Margarita was a good destination for the “Lower Eastern Caribbean” route, which also included Grenada, Tobago, Barbados, Aruba and Curacao.
However, given the conditions and serious incidents that occurred in the middle of the cruise season, they were diverted to Aruba, Curaçao, Belize, Cartagena, Panama, Cancun and Guatemala.