Gas crunch forces Venezue­lans to turn to fire­wood

Kuwait Times - - BUSINESS -

Venezue­lan home­maker Car­men Ron­don lives in the country with the world’s largest oil re­serves, but has spent weeks cook­ing with fire­wood due to a chronic short­age of home cook­ing gas - leav­ing her hoarse from breath­ing smoke.

Find­ing do­mes­tic gas cylin­ders has be­come in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult, a prob­lem that oil in­dus­try an­a­lysts at­tribute to slump­ing oil out­put in the OPEC na­tion which is strug­gling un­der an un­rav­el­ing so­cial­ist econ­omy.

State oil com­pany PDVSA says the prob­lem is due to dif­fi­cul­ties in dis­tribut­ing tanks amid four months of anti-govern­ment protests in which its trucks have been at­tacked.

“I’ve spent three weeks cook­ing with wood and some­times the food does not even soften prop­erly, I can’t stand it any­more,” said Ron­don, as she lined up to buy a cylin­der un­der the scorch­ing sun in the city of San Felix in south­ern Venezuela.

More than 100 peo­ple were ahead of her in line. Nine out of 10 Venezue­lan homes rely on cylin­ders for home gas us­age, with only 10 per­cent re­ceiv­ing it via pipe­lines, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial fig­ures. The govern­ment launched a plan 12 years ago to bring some 5 mil­lion house­holds onto the nat­u­ral gas net­work but was un­able to fol­low through.

Venezuela’s so­cial­ist econ­omy has been in free-fall since the oil price col­lapse in 2014, cre­at­ing short­ages of ev­ery­thing from di­a­pers to can­cer med­i­ca­tion and spurring in­fla­tion to tripledigit lev­els.

Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro says he is the vic­tim of an “eco­nomic war” by the op­po­si­tion, and says vi­o­lent street protests are part of an ef­fort to over­throw him. With oil out­put near 25-year lows, PDVSA has been forced to im­port liq­uid pe­tro­leum gas, or LPG, which is used to fill nat­u­ral gas cylin­ders. Venezuela im­ported 26,370 bar­rels per day of LPG in the first half of 2017, ac­cord­ing to data seen by Reuters. PDVSA did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

Long lines to buy cylin­ders have spurred protests. Demon­stra­tors in May burned 22 PDVSA trucks in a sin­gle day in re­sponse to the short­ages. The com­pany says it is now dis­tribut­ing gas cylin­ders at night and be­fore day­break due to such protests, which also in­clude road­blocks that pre­vent free move­ment of ve­hi­cles.

“It’s not fair that a country with so much oil is go­ing through this,” com­plained Maria Echev­er­ria, a 44-year-old home­maker, who started wait­ing at dawn to buy a gas cylin­der in San Cris­to­bal, near the bor­der with neigh­bor­ing Colom­bia. — Reuters

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