People sleep and eat in the streets, waiting for the service stations to open. But they are not sure that this will happen.
Fernando has been sleeping in the open for six days, enduring temperatures of up to 40 degrees. He is just one more in a long line of cars waiting to refuel in the western state of Zulia, where gasoline is the more expensive and scarce from all over Venezuela.
With more boredom than resignation, the 59-year-old man says that he will last 72 hours in the queue and that if, after that period, they do not open the service station, he will return home to put away the car “until God wants”.
Neither Fernando Valecillos nor any of the hundreds of people who wait next to him have the certainty of being able to load. What everyone does know is that each liter of fuel there, in a station run by the regional government, costs almost as much as a minimum salary and it is the most expensive price in the whole country.
Less than a year ago, Fernando was able to fill up the car’s tank, still weathering severe fuel shortages, for less than a dollar. Now this unemployed man who lives off the help his children give him prepares to pay $ 24 for 30 liters of gas.
And, as has happened with all the ills of the Venezuelan crisis, the gasoline shortage of recent years hit Zulia hardest, despite being an oil-rich state.
So until in June the Government launched the sale of fuel at $ 0.50 a liter, which meant the end of gratuity on this product.
Also waiting a week ago, Antonio Echarri feels “adrift”. He says that he ate and slept on the asphalt the last few days “without any commitment” that the sacrifice is going to be worth it.
“We are waiting for you, Colombian, the one from here has already been diverted to Caracas,” says the 58-year-old Zuliano who, like many of his countrymen, resents the privileges of the Venezuelan capital, which does not escape national problems such as scarcity or electrical failures but suffers them to a lesser extent.
“I am buying it at an international price and even more expensive,” adds this photographer, not without first expressing that he is “crazy” for selling his vehicle and leaving the country, to escape hardship.
Equally overwhelmed, Rolando Orozco does not even have a way to return home, as the tank of his vehicle is dry so he is forced to wait. “I have to die in line,” he says.
The 60-year-old, who years ago stopped taking medications for his hypertension because he could not afford them, remembers that as a pensioner he perceives less than two dollars a month, so he is sought as a delivery man to “half survive” in a country whose basic food basket costs about $ 300 a month.
“We are waiting for God to have mercy on us,” he adds.
The governor of Zulia, the ruling party Omar Prieto, warned in April that he would be “implacable” with those who sold fuel in dollars, but two months later he established 24 gas stations that charged only in foreign currency, following the order of the Executive.
This border region with Colombia has 198 gas stations, but in recent weeks only 12 have been operating intermittently, leaving only a dozen points of sale for five million inhabitants and more than one million vehicles.
For this reason, the governor has authorized this month “anyone who can” to import fuel and sell it in Zulia, always below one dollar a liter, but above the cost established by the Executive.
“The idea is that we can break the blockade,” Prieto said recently, alluding to the economic sanctions imposed by the United States on the government of Nicolás Maduro that restrict the arrival of fuel and chemicals necessary for local production in the country.