By Carlos Seijas Meneses
Caracas, Dec 27 (EFE).- The shortage in Venezuela of gasoline, which had been relatively plentiful, has gotten worse in December across much of the country just on the 20th anniversary of a petroleum strike that forced the then-fifth-largest oil producer in the world to import fuel, which it still must do today to meet its domestic needs.
The scarcity has resulted in long lines of drivers waiting to fill their gas tanks at service stations, a situation that takes Venezuelans back to December 2002 when the domestic distribution of fuel was severely affected after the managers of state-run oil company PDVSA yielded to a general strike called by the political opposition to then-President Hugo Chavez.
In the northwestern oil-producing state of Zulia, Jose Hernandez, a 50-year-old paramedic who waited in line to fill the gas tank of an ambulance, noted that the gas scarcity during the strike was “catastrophic,” which he said is also the experience of many Venezuelans “right at this time.”
“I think that (the lines) are getting (to be) almost the same, because I come from Sabaneta (a district in the city of Maracaibo) and all the service stations have shut down,” he said, adding that he had been waiting in line for four hours, with 30 vehicles still ahead of him.
In Maracaibo, the capital of the state bordering Colombia, fuel scarcity – which had lessened in 2021 – once again began to get worse in early December, proof of which were the 200-vehicle lines where it could take more than three hours to get to the pumps and where, in addition, customers were limited to 40 liters (10.6 gallons) of gas.
Joel Sandrea, 49, had been waiting in a gas line for more than seven hours and told EFE that the current situation “is worse” than 20 years ago, since now a liter of gasoline costs $0.50 although two decades ago fuel prices were subsidized and quite a bit lower.
“Your money doesn’t go very far at all, (and so) it’s worse because you have to pay $20 (for 40 liters) that you could better use at home for your other needs,” he said.
Venezuelans are facing yet another problem linked to the shortage of gas, according to economist and oil market analyst Pilar Navarro, who said that the country’s biggest refinery, Amuay, has been temporarily shut down due to some kind of breakdown, something that PDVSA has not confirmed.
In December 2002, oil production fell to 757,000 barrels per day (bpd) after standing at some 2.9 million bpd the previous month, according to figures released at that time by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
Today, crude production is even below the level to which it fell 20 years ago, diving to 693,000 bpd at the end of November, according to the international oil cartel.
Venezuela’s oil industry, once one of the world’s strongest, has taken a nosedive, particularly in the past five years, due to the lack of investment, the reduction in qualified employees, bad management, corruption and, most recently, sanctions imposed on Caracas by the United States, experts say.
Navarro said that the production of refined petroleum products fell from 965,000 bpd in 2002 – before the strike – “to be practically nonexistent in recent years,” a situation that has left the country unable “to (completely) cover domestic or export demand for fuel,” and it began “to depend on imports of derivatives and gasoline,” mainly from Iran.
The Medley Advisors analyst for Latin America said that the refinery sector is currently operating at 15 percent of its capacity of 1.3 million bpd, and it supplies between 110,000 and 140,000 bpd to the domestic market each day, although nationwide demand is on the order of 200,000 bpd.