Juan Hernández has been distributing water in Venezuela for twenty years. Twenty years minus five days. Those who have been unable to work due to the lack of gasoline in the Caribbean country, where, despite its large oil reserves, panic begins to settle due to its increasingly acute shortage, in the midst of the pandemic.
Many fear that the shortage will prevent the distribution of food to supermarkets or the mobilization of essential vehicles for the minimum functioning of the country, while the illegal sale of gasoline proliferates and the stamps of endless waiting at service stations do not usually have a happy ending. Sometimes violent.
“This is the first time that I have queued because we had not worked,” Wilmer Suárez, a food transporter, explained to Efe when he had been waiting for more than three hours at a gas station in the city of Guatire, near Caracas.
But Suárez had hundreds of vehicles ahead of him and he feared, in the worst case, that he would not be able to refuel. At best, perhaps he would have the opportunity to pour a few liters into his tank and for that there were hours of queuing and a lot of patience.
“I have only half a tank,” laments the 27-year-old who used to distribute half a ton of food a day -even in the midst of the quarantine imposed to stop COVID-19- in an old delivery truck, before the fuel shortage disrupted your routines.
Added to their cries are those of the farmers for the loss of crops because they cannot transport them, or those of the producers with problems in mobilizing other essential foods.
“DAYS WITHOUT WORKING”
The distribution of drinking water has also been affected, another coveted asset in Venezuela due to the collapse of the public aqueduct network.
“I’ve been without work for five days. I queue and queue and I don’t get (to refuel),” says Juan Hernández, who has been distributing jerry cans of water for 20 years.
His clients, all from the cities of Guarenas and Guatire, near Caracas, call him every day expecting him to replace the empty cans, but it is almost impossible for him to get gasoline to take them.
Concerned about the future of his business, Hernández fears that some “savvy” delivery man will stay on the route that took two decades to weave, and he fears, even more so, how empty his pantry is becoming.
For now, he has found a solution that embarrasses him: a sister who lives in Ecuador will send him a remittance, money that will only be enough for him to eat while he waits for the normalization of the gasoline supply and thus be able to resume his daily dispatches.
SEARCH FOR GASOLINE, RETURN WITH LESS
Many of those who make the long lines will leave with less fuel than they had when they left home, as happened three times to the transporter Mario Suárez.
“I am out of gasoline and hoping (to refuel), but I have already done it three times (the line) and I have not been able to,” the 63-year-old man tells Efe from a long queue in downtown Caracas. “I am hopeful, to see if we arrive”, he adds.
Suarez fears the new coronavirus and wears a mask, mandatory in the country to avoid infections, but he also fears for the insecurity that Venezuela suffers while awaiting its turn: on Sunday a man was shot by a bullet when he resisted a robbery in a Caracas gas station.
According to the report of several witnesses, two armed youths arrived at a gas station and robbed several people who were waiting to refuel. Despite the massive robbery and shooting, no one left his place in line.
THE “BACHAQUERO” OF GASOLINE
But others, many of them with incomes less than $ 10 a month – which leaves them on the verge of misery, according to the UN – will fill their tanks several times each day and sell gasoline on the black market, despite the strict control that the Government of Nicolás Maduro imposed on the distribution of fuels.
They are the so-called “bachaqueros”, men who saw in the shortage that the Venezuelan government blames sanctions on the United States, the new lifesaver of their economies in a Venezuela that is going through the greatest crisis in its modern history.
In other times, the Venezuelan “bachaqueros” captured and later sold food, soaps or deodorants at extra cost, among other basic necessities.
“Weekly I can sell about 50 liters (of gasoline) to those who need it,” Gabriel tells Efe, the fictitious name of an informal seller who tells his story on condition of anonymity.
“But (I only sell) to trustworthy people, people who know me and can get gasoline,” he points out, alluding to the high cost of reselling.
THE CHEAPEST GASOLINE IN THE WORLD
In Venezuela, the country with the largest oil reserves on the planet, gasoline is so cheap that with just a dollar you can fill the tanks of more than 1.5 million compact cars.
Venezuelans often repeat as a mantra that they have the cheapest gasoline in the world, but it stops being so when a “bachaquero” sells it for a dollar a liter to users who are used to giving it away.
Thus, filling the tank with a compact would be around at least $ 40, an amount unattainable for many in Venezuela, where the minimum wage and pensions barely exceed two dollars a month.
KNOWN ACTOR, PHENOMENON TO KNOW
The “bachaqueros” smuggled gasoline for years between Venezuela and Colombia through the border crossings of the western state of Zulia, a region in which the Venezuelan crisis is most crudely expressed.
This illegal business occurred in daylight and in full view, without the efforts to stop it taking effect, but the collapse of oil production and refining capacities in Venezuela put this transfer of fuel in the sights of the Government, which he redoubled measures to eliminate it.
According to official data, in the past decade Venezuela lost between 10,000 and 15,000 million dollars per year due to contraband to Colombia.
This phenomenon was, until recently, unknown in the Venezuelan capital, where there are hundreds of gas stations and the supply was always regular, with the exception of an oil strike in 2002 that minimized the pumping and refining capacity of the state-owned company. PDVSA.
ILLEGAL SALE GIVES FOR THE JUST
But selling fuel illegally in Venezuela does not mean great benefits either and it has its risks. Without going any further, this Monday the Venezuelan Prosecutor’s Office reported the arrest of a group of people accused of reselling gasoline, including several military officers in the state of Zulia.
Most of the time, Gabriel sells gasoline in 5 or 10 liter drums. Shoppers must approach their home, in a depressed neighborhood that winds its way down the side of a hill in downtown Caracas, and there, after crossing narrow alleys and climbing uneven steps, grab the desired fuel.
Buyers must then load gasoline into the vehicle themselves. There is no assurance that they have loaded “the 95”, the highest octane in the country and the one preferred by Venezuelans, that the fuel is not contaminated or that it has not even been mixed with other substances.
“I do not have gasoline around,” explains the “bachaquero” to Efe about the precautions he takes, because contraband does not come free, and points out that the money he earns barely allows him to pay for daily expenses and eat: he must share the profits various intermediaries that allow you to keep your illegal business afloat. Therefore, it does not defend it either.
“It would be good if (the fuel supply) was normalized, because (the situation) is not good for anyone,” Gabriel concludes. “Practically the people are eating the people.”