CARACAS – The line outside the gas station is too long to take a picture, so journalists instead have to record short Tik Tok videos to show the magnitude of the shortage. This is Caracas, the capital of the country with the largest oil reserves in the world, a few hours after the Nicolas Maduro regime admitted Friday what has long been suspected: it ran out of gasoline.
A lengthy, two page communique ends with the announcement of an upcoming, additional gasoline rationing scheme, in haughty Central Planning tones: “We report the implementation, on a temporary basis, of a special contingency plan for the supply of fuel, which will tend to normalize and regularize this new distribution scheme in the short and medium term.” The Maduro regime will not abandon production of gasoline, according to the statement, which reads “we reaffirm our commitment to produce all of the gasoline and other products necessary for Venezuela's energy development.” State oil company PDVSA's already-strained (but once robust) capacity to produce gasoline ground to a stop in February and the company has so far been unable to restart production in any of the six in country refineries it has, even with assistance from Iran.
The official announcement of the gasoline shortage was made by a committee created by Maduro in February, the "Alí Rodríguez Araque Presidential Commission", which is headed by U.S.-sanctioned and wanted man Tarek El Aissami, who Maduro made oil minister at the same time.
In the statement, the commission blames the gasoline shortage on the U.S., arguing that the scarcity is part of the “harmful consequences of the vile blockade, in the form of unfair, illegal and unilateral sanctions, imposed by the United States government against PDVSA, its affiliated companies and its suppliers, both national and foreign.”
“This deplorable blockade has been repeatedly denounced by our Bolivarian Government in different instances of the world legal system as a flagrant and pernicious violation of the human rights of an entire people, which contravenes the entire legal order of the international community, especially the United Nations Charter. In this regard, this imperial attack on our sovereignty has brought serious damage to our entire energy industry, falling to a greater extent on our system of refining and production of fuels”, the commission stated.
The statement also singles out former U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela (2004-2007) William Brownfield, as well as special White House envoy for Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, saying the U.S. officials “direct…all the plans for destabilization and sabotage of the nation, in complicity with a sector of the anti-democratic right wing opposition, that do not stop their coup intentions”.
It has not been possible to resume gasoline production in spite of “making great efforts to supply the national demand for fuel and to boost production levels, by strengthening the industrial and technological infrastructure of our main refineries, as well as by developing new initiatives in the refining process, that aim at consolidating an effective scheme of import substitution to protect our oil company from aggressions or sanctions of any kind.”
Meanwhile, according to Russ Dallen at Caracas Capital Markets, three Iranian tankers with 37 million gallons of gasoline are on their way to Venezuela. The three Iranian tankers, the Forest, Fortune and Faxon, which had also previously brought gasoline to Venezuela in May, are off the southern coast of Africa. "It will be the end of September before the first Iranian ship Forest gets to Venezuela," wrote Dallen in a report Thursday evening. "But what does it say that the country with the largest oil reserves in the world -- which had the capacity to easily refine over 1.5 million barrels a day into gas before the Chavistas took over -- now has to buy gasoline from a pariah state on the other side of the world."