Gasoline shortages hit Caracas as US sanctions pinch supplies

People line in a gas station in Caracas, gas shortages in the capital worsened with the approaching holiday season. (Bloomberg pic)

HOUSTON: Venezuelan motorists are again feeling the sting of US sanctions as gasoline shortages in the country hit its capital city for the second day in a row.

Lines hundreds of cars long are stretched down some of Caracas’s main avenues, waiting to fill up at pump stations that are rapidly running dry. Those lucky enough to secure gasoline are paying for it with snacks or cigarettes, hamstrung by an economic crisis that’s made cash scarce and eroded its value to the point that it costs less than a penny to fill a gas tank.

Fuel shortages are now commonplace in the Venezuelan countryside as US sanctions have cut off Venezuela’s imports of American gasoline, but they’ve have only recently hit the capital. State-owned oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA hasn’t been able to make-up the shortfall, crippled by sinking crude production that has shut four out of five refineries in the country. Its remaining plants are operating at 14% of their capacity, the lowest rate in at least two years.

Enrique, the manager of a gas station in southeast Caracas who declined to give his last name, said his fuel supply has fallen by half since May 9. He used to receive one 37,000-liter fuel delivery from PDVSA every day, he said. Now, shipments arrive every other day.

Venezuela has typically relied on American shipments of gasoline to keep its drivers moving. It also depended on US supplies of naphtha, an oil compound necessary to pull Venezuela’s sludgy crude out of the ground, to maintain production. Both commodities have dried up since US President Donald Trump ratcheted up sanctions against the Latin American country.

PDVSA has since resorted to importing fuel from Europe, Asia and the Middle East. In recent months it has received fuel cargoes from India, UAE and storage tanks in Ventspils, Latvia. But the flow has slowed down as the US continues to put pressure on suppliers of fuels to the regime of incumbent president Nicolas Maduro.