By Xiu Ying, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Fuel shortages in Venezuela have caused an unprecedented flow across the Brazilian border. Venezuelans are driving to Brazil to tackle long queues to buy gas in Pacaraima, a border town in Roraima.
Known for the world’s cheapest liter of gasoline and for controlling the world’s largest confirmed oil reserve, Venezuela is facing an unprecedented crisis over the uncontrollable devaluation of the Bolívar, its national currency.
In 2018, inflation in the country reached 130,060 percent and could reach 10,000,000 percent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Production by state-owned Petróleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA), the Venezuelan oil giant, has plummeted and the country is now running low on fuel.
Drivers line up in long queues at stations in cities such as Maracaibo, Tumeremo and San Cristóbal, and fill gallon containers to store at home for fear of fuel running out for good.
Venezuelans, particularly those from the state of Bolívar, bordering Brazil’s state of Roraima, have resorted to traveling to Pacaraima to overcome shortages, and are now facing daily queues for refueling on the Brazilian side of the border.
Pacaraima is 15 km from Santa Elena de Uairén, Venezuela, where fuel shortages have been reported for several days.
At the station set up on the Brazilian border, a liter of gasoline costs R$4.95 (US$1.24) and a liter of diesel fuel R$4.25, much more than in Venezuela, where the government subsidizes the cost of fuel and it is sold almost for free to the populace.
With shortages at official gas stations in Venezuela, the price of gasoline in Pacaraima is attractive to Venezuelans because it is even lower than the price charged in the “Taliban” clandestine market – as the Venezuelan fuel smugglers on the border are called.
The shortage is so significant that in Santa Elena, a liter of Venezuelan gasoline can cost up to R$10 on the black market.
According to João Kléber Soares, representative of the Pacaraima Trade Association (ACP), the flow of Venezuelans coming to buy fuel in Pacaraima began shortly after the reopening of the border on the 10th of this month.
Soares said Venezuelans represent 90 percent of the current customers of Pacaraima’s temporary service station, installed after the border was closed to ensure supply to the local population.
With the reopening of the border, many Brazilians returned to fill up at the international station located on BR-174, between the two countries.
There, a liter of Venezuelan gasoline costs R$1.50, but supply is also erratic and forbidden to Venezuelans.
In addition to the new quest for gasoline, Venezuelans also travel to Pacaraima, 215 kilometers from the capital Boa Vista, for food and medicine – a flow which has intensified since 2016.
Before the crisis, it was Brazilians who crossed over to the Venezuelan side to shop. An estimated 1,000 people would go to Santa Elena every day.
In 2014, faced with increasing shortages of essential products, a decree by Nicolás Maduro vetoed the export and transport of goods to foreign countries.