Great Xela Boondoggles

I hear people complaining all the time about the lack of infrastructure in Guatemala, but I beg to differ: There’s plenty of stuff getting built here. What you should be complaining about is the lack of adequate infrastructure. Don’t believe me? We’ve compiled a little list of some of the biggest wastes of public money in recent times.

Ferrocarril de los Altos                                      Status: Non-functioning

Cost (1930): US$8.5 million (equivalent today: US$108.2 million)

The Plan: Run a 44km railroad from Xela down to San Felipe, just before Reu.

The Outcome: They actually built it, and it functioned for less than four years, never even covering operating costs. Now all that’s left of it is the railway museum in the old station and some serious nostalgia.

Quetzaltenango International Airport            Status: Pretty much the same as before.

Cost: Q41.6 million

The Plan: To accommodate all those 747s that were just waiting to fly tourists directly from Europe to Quetzaltenango, plans were made to upgrade the local airport to international standards.

The Outcome: The airport looks great, but when aviation authorities came to certify it they discovered that the contractor had skimped on the tarmac, leaving a thin layer that was only suitable for light planes and helicopters. Airport authorities have since banned the runway’s only previous real purpose – as a parking lot during Xela’s annual fair – for fears that the weight of cars may damage the brittle surface.

Salcaja Overpass                                                  Status: Structurally dubious

Cost: Ongoing

The Plan: Again, simple enough – construct a flyover so that vehicles coming off the ring road and those travelling between Las Rosas and Salcaja don’t have to contend with each other at a dangerous T-intersection.

The Outcome: Independent inspection found that, instead of spending the money on actually doing the job right, authorities used it to pave nearby roads, making the overpass fundamentally flawed. The project is on hold, awaiting further financing.

Arco del Sexto Estado                                         Status: There

Cost: Q1.5 million

The Plan: To reconstruct the archway built in the late 1800s (and demolished in the 1950s), designed to commemorate the equally ill-thought out and short-lived Sexto Estado, a separate country that lasted about two years, of which Xela was the capital.

The Outcome: You can see it for yourself, people, down there in Zone 2 – a fitting entranceway to the city’s girlie bar and used car parts district.

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