Venezuelans awoke to new gasoline prices on Monday — and the realisation that for the first time in decades they will have to pay close to market rates to fill up their tanks frequently when they were used to receiving it for virtually free.
The revolutionary socialist government unveiled its pricing regime over the weekend, risking the ire of people who are already suffering terrible hardships, and who for years have taken free gas for granted in one of the most oil-rich nations on earth.
In the past, fuel price rises have triggered outrage and protests, most notably during the infamous “Caracazo” riots of 1989 in which hundreds died. The new system comes as Venezuela suffers acute gas shortages.
Although it sits on some of the largest oil reserves in the world, its refineries are dilapidated due to chronic mismanagement. It is struggling to import chemicals because of US sanctions and has lost its capacity to turn its domestic heavy crude into gasoline.
The last of five oil tankers carrying petrol from Iran reached Venezuela last weekend. Those supplies will help the country for a few weeks, and on Monday Tehran said it was “ready to send more ships” if Caracas asks.
The US has urged other countries not to co-operate with the trade. Under the price regime, Venezuelan motorists will still get some gas almost for free. They will be allowed 120 litres a month — enough to fill an average car twice — for 5,000 bolívares ($0.02) a litre, meaning it will cost $1.20 to fill a car.
Motorcyclists will be allowed 60 litres a month. However, anyone who wants more will have to buy it from one of 200 designated petrol stations and pay 50 US cents per litre, only slightly cheaper than in the US and many countries in Latin America. They will be able to pay in dollars, an indication of how the US currency has permeated most aspects of Venezuelan life. Furthermore, to get their heavily subsidised initial quota, people will need a valid “Fatherland Card”, a voluntary carnet introduced by President Nicolás Maduro in 2017. Many government opponents refuse to register for the card, saying the Maduro regime uses it to exercise totalitarian control.
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