By Carlos Camacho
CARACAS -- A gasoline shortage in Venezuela -- the country with the world’s largest oil reserves -- has resulted in long lines to fill up that remind reporters of the 1970s gasoline scarcity in the U.S., but with the addition of streets blocked in protest against the government of Nicolas Maduro.
“Yes, the gasoline shortage is real. The refineries that produce gasoline for the domestic market, mostly Complejo Refinador Paraguana (CRP) in Falcon state and El Palito, in Carabobo, have seriously diminished their gasoline runs,” said Rafael Quiroz Serrano, a Venezuelan oil expert and economist that has advised the Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro administrations. “The last figures I have seen mean that only 33% of the installed refining capacity, of 1.3 million oil barrels a day in six in-country refineries is being used.”
That means the Venezuelan domestic market, which was consuming 400,000 gasoline barrels a day, is at least 50,000 barrels short.
And the Venezuelan driver is suffering in what some are calling an effort to keep foreign supporters Cuba and China, happy. Ivan Freites, a union organizer for oil workers, said Wednesday during an interview with the Globovision television network, that the government devotes oil to shipments for China and Cuba and not for local consumption. “What I have heard, from somebody that works in a directive capacity in PDVSA, is that, yes, there is an order, to prioritize shipments to China and some Caribbean clients, which include Cuba”, Quiroz adds.
The areas outside of Caracas have been suffering from gasoline shortages for a while now, in what Quiros describes as an entirely political decision.
“I have relatives in the Venezuelan Andes, and they have told me it takes them three days of standing in a long line to fill up. So, clearly, the priority, the preference was for Caracas. Because of its political weight, being the seat of government, the capital and all that. It even says so in a stanza of the national anthem, follow the example Caracas has given. People in power simply think that if something, say gasoline shortages, does not happen in Caracas, it just didn’t happen in Venezuela. But now, today, we are seeing otherwise: gasoline lines in Caracas,” Quiroz told LAHT during a lengthy telephone interview.
An underreported factor in the gasoline crisis, according to the expert, is the Venezuelan exodus, which has also affected the once mighty state oil company, PDVSA. “A lot of professional personnel have left, most without even giving notice and some have sent their letters of resignation once abroad,” the expert adds. “Those people operated the refineries.”
PDVSA now has about 100.000 employees. Two years ago, it had 145.000, according to figures from the company, the unions and Quiroz.