Cablegate: Blaze Destroys Government Offices in Tallest South

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (U) A fire ripped through 20 floors of the East Tower of
Caracas' Parque Central complex the night of October 16. No
one was killed, but the top third of the building was
completely burned and the tower is unusable. Finger pointing
to place the blame for the fire began immediately between the
federal and city governments and a number of competing
conspiracy theories are also making the rounds. The tower
housed offices of a number of government ministries,
including the Ministries of Infrastructure, Agriculture, and
Production and Commerce. The offices of the civil aviation
and ports and merchant marine institutes were also affected.
A number of important data bases, including those relating to
civil aviation, have been destroyed and, reportedly, no back
up exists. End summary.

Fire Causes Extensive Damage

2. (U) On October 17, a fire gutted the top 20 floors of the
56-floor East Tower of the Parque Central complex in downtown
Caracas. These twin towers are the tallest buildings in
South America. Dozens of firefighters were injured fighting
the blaze, but no one was killed. The origins of the fire
are still unclear, but according to the Caracas Fire Chief,
the prevailing thought is that it began with an electrical
short-circuit. It took the fire department 20 hours to bring
the fire under control, in part because of a complete failure
of the sprinkler system.

Who Is To Blame?

3. (U) The blame game began immediately with President Chavez
taking the lead during his weekly national broadcast on
October 17. The politically appointed head of the Centro
Simon Bolivar (CSB)--which administers the Parque
Central--accused the fire department of incompetence. The
head of the Caracas fire department, which reports to
opposition mayor Alfredo Pena, blamed the extensive
destruction on badly maintained fire suppression equipment in
the building, and said the problems with the building
electrical system had been brought up in several meetings
with the CSB. Conspiracy theories tied to the government
offices located on the floors where the fire is supposed to
have started have also started making the rounds. These
include allegations that the fire was started to hide the use
of computers in electoral fraud on August 15 or to mask
corruption in the management of the car title registry for
the City of Caracas.

Multiple Government Offices Affected

4. (U) The East Tower was home to numerous government
offices, including those of the Ministry of Infrastructure,
INAC (The Institute of Civil Aviation), INEA (the agency that
regulates the ports and merchant marines), the Caracas
Automobile Registry, the Ministry of Production and Commerce,
and the Ministry of Agriculture. Many offices in the top
third of the building, such as those of INAC, which was
located on the floor where the fire started, were completely
destroyed. Others on lower floors suffered extensive smoke
and water damage. The full extent of the structural damage
to the building is not yet known nor whether it can be
reoccupied. In the meantime, ministry workers have been
relocated throughout the city.

5. (U) The Venezuelan Council of Ministers has extended a
"declaration of emergency" for the affected offices which
reportedly enables better resource sharing among ministries
and allocates limited additional financial resources.
Meetings that were to be held by the Economic Section with
both INAC and INAPESCA (The National Fisheries Institute)
have not been canceled, merely relocated. The Agriculture
Ministry plans to be fully operational in a temporary
location within the next two weeks, and claims that most
essential functions will only be temporarily slowed. The

Minister of Agriculture claims that, though the data and
servers which housed ministry records were not damaged, it
will take some time to gain access to the data. As a result,
certain activities such as the issuance of animal import
permits have been suspended.

Loss of Records

6. (U) The 'planoteca,' the nation-wide archive of blueprints
and plans for public buildings and infrastructure, was
destroyed according to news reports. As well, the office of
Setra, which housed the records for automobile, truck and bus
licenses and vehicle titles registered in Caracas, was
completely incinerated. Contacts in INAC and INEA have told
us informally that their record loss (both electronic and
paper) is extensive and may include airport and port
blueprints and diagrams and the civil aviation registry.
Also affected are pilot, mechanic, and air traffic controller
licenses; medical certificates; and airline certification
documents. Even those offices that were not affected by the
fire have extensive loss of records due to water damage. We
understand that few, if any, of these records had backup
copies maintained elsewhere. The government, however, is
claiming that unofficial copies of various documents exist
throughout the country.

Investigations Underway
7. (U) During his October 17 address President Chavez called
for a comprehensive investigation into both the cause of the
blaze and the problems that occurred in controlling the fire.
On October 19, the administration created a 'High Level
Committee' to evaluate the situation. This committee has
thus far focused solely on recovery plans for the building
and damage assessments. A preliminary report presented to
President Chavez on October 20 recommends the demolition of
the 22 most damaged floors of the tower. According to
statements by Infrastructure Minister Ramon Carrizalez, the
fire and its aftermath have been declared a 'state problem'
which expands the scope of the committee's work to include
nearby residential and commercial buildings in addition to
the state offices. Carrizalez has also said that the
committee will be investigating "every public building" to
prevent similar incidents from happening.


8. (U) Since the Parque Central fire occurred on a weekend, a
significant human tragedy was avoided. The extent of the
property damage and other losses is not yet known, but some
important governmental functions will undoubtedly be
seriously affected. Despite calls for investigations into
the systemic failures that contributed to the extensive
damage of the Parque Central fire, government action thus far
appears to be deflected away from the CSB which managed the
building and toward establishing additional bureaucracies
with loosely defined public mandates--hardly a recipe for
expediency and success.


© Scoop Media

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