Venezuelans Feel Pain at the Pump as More Gas Stations Charge in Dollars

(Reuters, 16.Mar.2022) — Venezuelan drivers are feeling the squeeze of nagging gasoline shortages as state oil company PDVSA gradually boosts the number of its gas stations that charge them in dollars, five sources in the South American country said.

Three of the sources, who all have access to oil sector data, said at least 540 stations are now charging in dollars. That is more than double the 200 stations that President Nicolas Maduro’s government said in 2020 would sell fuel in dollars, after it relaxed some currency controls to shore up the struggling economy.

The situation has significantly boosted expenses for ordinary Venezuelans, as a subsidized liter of gasoline costs 0.10 bolivares, about $0.023, while unsubsidized gas costs $0.50 a liter.

Customers are allowed to buy a maximum of 120 liters per month at subsidized bolivar-denominated prices, while purchases of dollar-priced gas are unlimited.

“One always worries about ending up without subsidy,” said taxi driver Jose Garcia, who lives in the western city of Punto Fijo. Paying more for gasoline obliges him either to raise his prices or stop using his car, he said.

The Venezuelan minimum wage is equivalent to $29 per month.

Neither PDVSA nor the oil ministry responded to requests for comment, but one source said increasing the number of stations charging dollars is a way for the company to earn more in dollars itself.

Venezuela has suffered repeated cycles of gasoline shortages in recent years – sometimes leading to long lines at gas stations – as its refining infrastructure suffers from years of low investment.

“There is a huge difference between spending 2 bolivares and paying $15 a week,” said secretary Mariana Lopez in the central city of Valencia. “I earn $100 a month, with that salary I can’t.”

____________________

Reporting by Mayela Armas in Caracas, Mircely Guanipa in Maracay and Tibisay Romero in Valencia Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by David Gregorio