How could this be? Venezuela is rolling in crude, exporting everything it can pump out of the ground to the US and elsewhere, and awash in cash. But here in San Cristobal, about an hour from the Columbian border, gas stations, when they open, have lines sometimes 100 cars long, with waiting of an hour or more. Once drivers get to a pump, they can only fill the tank three-quarters full. Recently, the national government ordered the state government to require chips be placed on all vehicles using gas stations in Tachira to keep people from filling up too frequently.
What´s going on ? Smuggling, lots of it. With gas prices at about 20 cents a gallon in Venezuela, and at world prices in Columbia, there is an insatiable demand for below-market gasoline in Columbia, and plenty of people on both sides of the border willing to get into the business. Profits are easy and it’s a lot less risky than drug smuggling. So, it’s a struggle to keep enough gas in Tachira so vehicles can stay on the road. This is the reason the federal government says they imposed gas rationing.
Tachirenses generally see themselves as more hard-working, reserved and conservative than people down on the coast and in Caracas. They are certain rationing is being imposed because of Tachira´s long-standing opposition to Chavez and their recent election of an anti-Chavez governor.
A flower salesman I talked to told me “This (rationing) is a punishment for us Tachirenses, it’s unbelievable, what have we done to deserve to be discriminated against and to be treated like fourth or fifth class citizens. In an oil producing country we are in ruins here, the streets, the highways (are falling apart). We produce a lot but to give away to other countries, (here in Tachira) we’re in fourth or fifth place that’s the way it is.”
People are convinced the National Guard is running a lot of smuggling operations. I was told that a rookie guardsman was fired for trying to stop a senior officer from crossing into Columbia with a jeep with a hidden – and filled -extra gas tank.
I asked the pump attendant how much it costs to fill a tank. He said, “the only things that are cheap in Venezuela are gasoline and beer, friend. It costs 3 bolivares (70 cents US) to fill up 3/4 of a tank, and it costs 3 bolivares for a beer.”
Click on link below to see him explain: