Photo: BBC retrieved
On May 16th, Iván Freites, head of the Oil Workers Union of Falcon State, denounced that the Paraguaná refinery is producing 170,000 gasoline barrels per day, when it should be producing 956,000. Hours later, long lines of up to 200 vehicles started rolling into gas stations all over the country, especially in Merida, Tachira, Lara and Zulia. Things are so bad, that drivers are coming to blows over fuel.
Zulia, Venezuela’s oil heartland, has been suffering fuel shortages for months. Guillermo Blanco, regime minister for Refinement and the Petrochemical Industry, announced rationing schedules for gas stations, accelerating the region’s collapse. For instance, there’s barely any public transportation and shop owners, who have been forced to purchase power generators due to the electric crisis, are finding it hard to keep them running without gas.
For Freites, the root cause of these problems is evident: corruption and the dismantling of oil refineries such as El Palito and Puerto La Cruz, completely shutting down gasoline production. The regime has even resorted to importing gas, an operation that the U.S. sanctions are making more difficult. Meanwhile (and according to reports from Radio Fe y Alegría), people frustrated without power and water under the scorching Zulian sun are kidnapping fuel trucks right on the road.
Si quiere llenar el tanque de gasolina y comer completo múdese para Cuba. Estos comunistas, con militares venezolanos arrastrados, desvalijaron a Venezuela
— Elides J Rojas L (@ejrl) May 18, 2019
And despite a crisis that can extend itself to catastrophic ends, the Maduro regime continues to send fuel to Cuba.
“Cuban ships arrive at Amuay’s harbor, turn off the lights and shut down the GPS transponders to hide their location, in order to load gasoline and gasoil and take it to Cuba,” says Freites, adding that 58,000 barrels out of the 100,000 they take daily, now include lubricants, gas and crude.
In this regard, an incident was reported on May 1st. According to journalist Sebastiana Barráez, the dictatorship’s political police boarded the oil ship Manuela Sáenz to force it to change course to Havana, replacing the captain when the crew refused in protest.
“Cuban ships enter international waters, where they can sail freely, although later they must figure out how to sell gas, with the U.S. restrictions,” said Freites, adding that Maduro will prioritize Caracas for as long as he can.
And about the “privileged” Caracas…
In a recent press conference, deputy José Guerra said that citizens of oil-producing states, like Anzoategui and Zulia, shouldn’t hold Caracas responsible for the situation, when the culprit is “a government that sacrificed them in favor of the political capital.”
While gas station lines in Caracas average 10 vehicles, citizens in Tachira may see lines measured in kilometers, with up to 600 vehicles. Public services may still be available at the capital, but soon the food shortages will intensify when there’s no gas for transport trucks and one of the main producers of meat in Venezuela, the state of Zulia, can’t guarantee supply for other states.
Chavismo, in its typical denial of emergencies, insists that fuel shortage isn’t an issue.
A few days ago, PDVSA’s official Twitter account posted: “Once again, PDVSA is under attack with fake news. The company and its workers are capable of supplying all the gas the nation needs. PDVSA will continue guaranteeing fuel for the people, don’t believe the rumors!”
Can the people waiting in line for three days in Tachira believe their own experience?Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported. Support independent Venezuelan journalism by making a donation.