Overview: Venezuela’s transportation system is well developed, with the main exception of the railroad system. The transportation density network is higher along the coasts and gets lower toward the center and south of the country. The south of the country is not accessible by land. The road network is the principal means of transport for goods and people and is considered one of the best in Latin America. Buses are the primary form of transport throughout most of Venezuela. They run frequently and are inexpensive but are generally slow and crowded. For long-distance travel, the first-class bus service throughout the country is generally fast and efficient. Various small airlines serve the domestic network, but most operate at a loss and with very old equipment.
Roads: In 2004 Venezuela had approximately 81,000 kilometers of roads, including 31,200 kilometers of paved highways, 24,800 kilometers of gravel-surfaced roads, and 25,000 kilometers of unimproved dirt tracks. The road network includes a section of the Pan-American Highway running from Caracas to Colombia. Roads in Caracas and other large cities are comparable to those in U.S. cities. In rural areas, the road network is less developed than in the cities. Although control over highways devolved to the state governments in 1989, expected improvements in the road infrastructure failed to materialize.
Railroads: The country’s very small railroad system, half of which is privately owned, is undeveloped and not a viable alternative to the roads. In 2003 the country had a total of 682 kilometers of standard 1.435-meter gauge railroad. A 3,447-kilometer-long system of local, regional, and national lines is planned for 2020. Caracas has a modern subway system, which was opened in 1982.
Ports and Shipping: Venezuela has 13 major ports and harbors: Amuay, Bajo Grande, El Tablazo, La Guaira, La Salina, Maracaibo, Matanzas, Palua, Puerto Cabello, Puerto la Cruz, Puerto Ordaz, Puerto Sucre, and Punta Cardón. Of these, La Guaira, Puerto Cabello, and Maracaibo handle 80 percent of the cargo. In 2003 the Merchant Marine totaled 48 ships (1,000 GRT or more).
Inland Waterways: Venezuela has 7,100 kilometers of inland waterways. The Orinoco and Lago de Maracaibo are navigable by oceangoing vessels. In 2003 the Orinoco was navigable for 400 kilometers. However, navigability of the Orinoco may be affected by substantial seasonal variations in water levels, with the lowest levels in March and April. Development of the waterway infrastructure, especially along the Orinoco and Apure, is a government priority.
Civil Aviation and Airports: Since its creation in November 2002, a semi-autonomous agency, the National Institute of Civil Aviation (Instituto Nacional de Aviación Civil—INAC), which is attached to the Ministry of Infrastructure, has supervised and regulated civil aviation in Venezuela. Of Venezuela’s 431 airfields, about 280 are licensed landing facilities, but only about 30 have regular scheduled traffic. All others are for general aviation, and some are privately owned. The country’s main international airport is Maiquetía Simón Bolívar International Airport, which serves Caracas; the only airport that is owned and operated by the federal government, it is run by a semi-autonomous agency attached to the Ministry of Infrastructure. The other main airport serves the city of Maracaibo. In 2004 Venezuela had an estimated total of 127 paved runways, including 5 more than 3,047 meters long.
In 2003 the financial condition of the airline industry in Venezuela was very poor, and only three airlines were reported to be operating at a profit: Aeropostal-Wings of Venezuela, Santa Barbara Airlines, and Avior. Venezuela's main domestic airline until it went bankrupt in 1999 was Avensa (Venezuelan Airlines); it now operates on a reduced scale. About half a dozen smaller airlines serve as regional carriers. In late 2003, the government announced plans for a new national airline, Conviasa (Venezuelan Consortium of Aeronautical Industries and Air Services), which was awaiting approval by the INAC to begin operating in early 2005.
Pipelines: In 2003 Venezuela’s pipelines totaled 992 kilometers for extra-heavy crude; 5,262 kilometers for gas; 7,484 kilometers for oil; 1,681 kilometers for refined products; and 141 kilometers of oil/water line for an unidentified use. The country does not yet have any export pipelines. However, when President Chávez visited Colombia in November 2004, he agreed to build a cross-border oil pipeline for shipping Venezuelan oil to the Pacific coast.
Telecommunications: Since the adoption of a new telecommunications law in June 2000 and privatization of the state telephone company, National Autonomous Telephone Company of Venezuela (CANTV), in November 2000, the sector has been modernized and expanded as a result of a surge of investment. Telephone service in rural areas has been improved substantially, and exchanges and trunk lines increasingly have been digitized. In 2003 the country had almost 3 million telephone subscribers, 112,634 public telephones, and a telephone density of 11.5 per 100 inhabitants. In 2003 Venezuela had 7 million mobile cellular phones in use by 27.3 percent of the population. The mobile phone market is the most competitive and dynamic subsector. Venezuela is linked by a direct dialing network. However, telephone service remains overloaded, and telephoning can be very frustrating, particularly in the larger towns. Smaller towns tend to be better for international calls because there is less competition for lines. Venezuela’s domestic satellite system has three earth stations, including one Intelsat (Atlantic Ocean) and one PanAmSat, and is participating with Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia in the construction of an international fiber-optic network. A national inter-urban fiber-optic network capable of digital multimedia services has been installed. Venezuela has three submarine coaxial cables.
In 2003 Venezuela had about 201 AM commercial radio stations, 20 FM radio stations, 11 short-wave stations, and 15 radio stations operated by National Radio of Venezuela, the state broadcasting organization. The country also had 4.1 million televisions, 66 television broadcast stations (plus 45 repeaters), and 5 main television channels. The government owns a national television station, Venezuelan Television; a metropolitan Caracas television station, TV Venezuela; and a newswire service, VenPres, whose directors are named by the president.
The number of personal computers per 1,000 of population was 70.9 in 2002. In 2003 the number of Internet hosts totaled 35,301; the number of Internet subscribers totaled 321,330; and the number of Internet users totaled more than 1.5 million, or about 6 percent of the population. Almost 1,000 cybercafés were operating in the country at the end of 2002.