With cheap gasoline scarce, Venezuelans can buy at a premium

A worker wearing a face mask amid the new coronavirus pandemic waits while a tanker truck supplies gasoline to a state oil company gas station in Caracas, Venezuela, Sunday, May 31, 2020. After decades of being the cheapest gasoline in the world, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro indicates that as of next Monday a new pricing scheme will be imposed on some 200 stations. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix)
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President Nicolás Maduro said that starting Monday Venezuelans will be able to buy gasoline at international market prices, marking a historic break in the socialist country’s practice of having the world’s cheapest fuel.

Across the nation, 200 filling stations will allow drivers to fuel up for the equivalent of 50 cents a liter, or $1.90 a gallon. Venezuelans will also be able to buy a limited amount of subsidized gasoline each month, paying $0.025 a liter, less than a penny a gallon.

The government will continue to pay for all fuel used by public transportation, Maduro said.

“The time has come to move toward a new policy, toward a new normality, toward a new situation,” Maduro said in a Saturday state TV broadcast, calling it a step to “regularizing” the costs.

Venezuela has the world’s largest underground oil reserves, but it has been forced to buy fuel from Iran to bridge deep shortages, unable to pump crude from the ground and turn it into gasoline.

The last of five Iranian tankers is approaching Venezuela’s coast, but experts say that even those shipments will supply the nation’s drivers for only a few weeks. Venezuela’s state-run oil company PDVSA is also attempting to restart gasoline production with Iran’s help.

Maduro accused the “imperialist” United States for leading an economic war against Venezuela, while Maduro’s critics say years of corruption and mismanagement by the socialist government led to the scarcities.

Fuel shortages have plagued the nation for years, but scarcity recently has even hit the capital of Caracas, sparking mile-long lines at filling stations that last for days.

Maduro said days earlier that he had appointed a team to consider gasoline prices. Venezuela paid in dollars for the Iranian gasoline, Maduro said, asking for the nation’s support in this transition.

Tampering with fuel prices in the past has been an explosive subject. In 1989, riots broke out leading to nearly 300 deaths when then-President Carlos Andrés Pérez ordered an increase.

It remains unclear how the new system will work and whether the government can provide enough gasoline to meet demands.

Opposition leader Juan Guaidó was among critics speaking out Sunday against the new price structure. He called it another “mockery by the dictatorship,” calling on Venezuelans to “respond with force.”

Guaidó in early 2019 launched a campaign to oust Maduro with backing from the United States among nearly 60 nations. Maduro, however, remains in power of state institutions.