Early this morning I returned to D.C. after a whirlwind weekend trip to Venezuela. I took my son Richard, who was born in Paraguay, to see the Paraguayan national soccer team play its penultimate World Cup Soccer qualifier against Venezuela. Richard is a freshman at Florida International University in Miami and we planned this trip several weeks ago, thinking it would be a critical game for the Paraguayan team. However, because Paraguay upset Argentina last month it already had qualified to play in the World Cup, which will be held this summer in South Africa. Thus, the game meant much more to Venezuela, the only country in South American that has never appeared in the World Cup.
On Thursday I flew to Miami and picked up my son and we flew to Caracas on Friday morning. We spent Friday night visiting with my friend Xu Kezhu, whose husband is the Chinese consul to Venezuela. Professor Xu was the deputy director of the Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims (CLAPV) in Beijing until she moved to Venezuela in January to join her husband. I last saw her in December where she took me to see the world famous Venezuelan Youth Symphony perform at the National Center for Performing Arts (“the Egg”) in Beijing. On Friday night Professor Xu and her husband took Richard and I to see a Chinese shadow puppet troupe, the Folkloric Arts Company of Shaanxi, perform at the Teatro Municipal in Caracas. After their terrific performance, we went backstage and met the performers who gave us an opportunity to try manipulating their shadow puppets. We then fought a horrendous traffic jam in downtown Caracas before meeting Professor Xu’s son who joined us for dinner at a local Chinese restaurant. It was really great to see Professor Xu and to meet her family. She told me that she plans to return to public interest environmental law practice in China when her husband’s posting is completed in a few years.
Two weeks ago it was announced that the Venezuela/Paraguay soccer game would be played in Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela, nearly 400 miles southeast of Caracas. As a result on Saturday we had to leave Caracas at 6AM to embark on a 9-hour trip to Puerto Ordaz. When we stopped for gas I was astonished to discover how cheap it is due to nationalization of the oil companies and heavy government subsidies. A liter of 91 octane gasoline costs .079 bolivares, the equivalent of less than .30 bolivares per gallon or less than 14 cents in US currency at the official exchange rate of 2.14 bolivares per dollar (or less than 6 cents at the black market rate of more than 5 bolivares per dollar). High octane (95) premium gasoline cost .009 bolivares per liter or less than 16 cents per gallon (official exchange rate, 6.5 cents at the black market rate). While Venezuelans seem proud that their gasoline costs less than water, it results in their country being the refuge of gas guzzlers that generate considerable pollution and enormous traffic jams in Caracas. No one will be crazy enough to buy a hybrid vehicle when you can fill your tank up for less than a dollar. With everyone invested in a culture of astonishingly cheap gasoline, eliminating the subsidies would be an enormous political challenge.
After hours of traversing southeastern Venezuela, crossing the Orinoco River we finally arriving in Puerto Ordaz, a town near the Guyana border. We proceeded directly to Cachamay Stadium where we arrived two hours before gametime. Every seat already was occupied by more than 40,000 wildly cheering Venezuelan fans. My son wisely opted to buy a Venezuelan hat so as not to attract unwanted attention as one of the very few Paraguayan fans present (he declared that the hat would be a present for a classmate from Venezuela after he returned to Miami). He did find a Paraguay jersey that he purchased, but he wisely returned it to the car rather than wearing it into the stadium. Paraguay played brilliantly, but the game was scoreless at halftime. In the second half Paraguay scored two goals and their goalie blocked a Venezuelan penalty kick, sending local supporters of the “vinotinto” (the charming nickname for the Venezuelan team because they wear burgundy jerseys the color of red wine) streaming for the exits. A few came back when Venezuela scored a late goal, but the game ended with a 2-1 Paraguay victory, putting the Paraguayan Guarani in a tie for first place in the South American group. After staying overnight in Puerto Ordaz, we left at 4AM on Sunday to return to Caracas in time for our flight back to the U.S. Photos of our trip are available online at: http://gallery.me.com/rperci#100567
Prior to leaving for Venezuela on Thursday, I attend the opening of a terrific conference on “Regulatory Dsyfunction” that our Environmental Law Program co-sponsored with the Center for Progressive Reform. The conference was organized by my colleague Rena Steinzor, president of the Center for Progressive Reform, which has done a fabulous job of promoting the public interest in regulatory issues. The conference included representatives of EPA, OSHA and the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC), who discussed the problems confronting each of their agencies, prominent academics and environmental activists. Because I had to teach a class and catch a plane, I was only able to attend a brief part of the conference. While the discussions were off the record, what struck me was the extent to which international issues have affected each agency. OSHA has wrestled with how to harmonize hazard communication requirements with international standards. The CPSC is dealing with a host of issues raised by imports of hazardous consumer products. EPA is considering TSCA reform against the backdrop of the EU’s path-breaking REACH program that will generate far more test data on chemicals than EPA currently has. Globalization is clearly having a profound effect on regulatory policy.