Troops Deployed to Contain Border Fuel Supply Chaos

Plans by Venezuela's energy and oil ministry to export gasoline to neighboring countries directly, bypassing fuel transporters and owners of gas stations near borders, have already resulted in areas bordering Colombia running out of fuel and the deployment of troops to control the situation.

Both the fuel shortages and the U-turn the direct export plans represent have angered transporters and service station owners. Under previously announced plans, the ministry would have conditioned exports to licenses, thus opening the export market to more players instead of keeping all players out of the export market.

The ministry's aim is to stop cheap Venezuelan fuels from being "illegally exported" or smuggled to neighboring countries.

Some 100 million liters of fuels a month are being smuggled out of Venezuela, the energy and oil ministry's domestic market director Gladys Parada told BNamericas last week. The ministry wants to export this fuel legally and at a much higher price than the US$0.05 per liter that premium gasoline retails for in Venezuela, she added.

Parada said a quota system would be implemented to control smuggling, restricting service stations' supplies to the volumes of gasoline demanded by the domestic market alone.

However, nobody, not even gas station owners, seems to know if the system is already in place, and translating intentions into reality has led to the current chaos. "I don't know if I can just start exporting on my own to Colombia or if I need a new permit", said Emiro Mendez, who owns a gas station affiliated with Venezuela's Fenegas guild of 1,800 gas stations in Táchira state, a stone throw's from the busy border with Colombia. "But I can tell you this: international gas stations are not receiving any gasoline from the government," he told BNamericas.

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