Crisis in Venezuela: due to chronic gas shortage, old wood stoves return

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In different regions of the country, the inhabitants improvise ways of cooking with pieces of wood or charcoal. A return to the past.

An old and rudimentary way of preparing meals is practiced again in Venezuela: the wood stove. This return to the past is not out of fashion, but out of necessity.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), this is the eighth country in the world in reserves of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). However, problems in the distribution of domestic gas have left the population with no other alternative than to burn wood.

This practice has been observed in the interior of the country for several months and now has become a reality in the capital, Caracas. In the search for wood to cook, not even the national parks are spared.

According to Antero Alvarado, professor at the Institute for Higher Administration Studies (IESA), around 84% of domestic gas consumption throughout Venezuela is carried out through carafes, and only 7% of the population receives gas (methane) directly from their homes.

The state-owned Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) produces more domestic gas than the population can consume. However, there are failures in fluid extraction, bottling and distribution systems.

The shortage of carafes has turned the backyard of houses or buildings into open kitchens. It is in these spaces that people prepare food the old-fashioned way and try to avoid the health damage caused by smoke.

In 2007, during the time of expropriations by the Hugo Chávez government (1999-2013), the State nationalized two of the most important LPG companies in the country. Then PDVSA Gas Comunal was created, a company that has total control of the storage and distribution of LPG. Some small suppliers, located in three Venezuelan states, distribute domestic gas.

Venezuela manufactured 160,000 barrels of methane gas daily at a time when PDVSA produced three million barrels of oil per day. The gas was extracted together with the oil. But the slow decline in the economic crisis after the death of Chávez in 2013 and the chaotic management of Nicolás Maduro, in addition to international sanctions, mean that the country now has a single dilapidated LPG plant. Despite internal demand for the product, there is no way to store and dispatch the extracted gas.

Venezuela has even exported propane gas, from which LPG is produced. But between 2009 and 2010, the fuel began to be imported. Later, with the imposition of sanctions by the United States Department of the Treasury, these operations became complex.

Right now, the LPG shortage reaches 60% of the demand, leading Venezuela to a very critical situation. The country is approaching risk of running out of gas for domestic consumption. Not to mention that around 50% of the fleet that transports gas, whether crude or already bottled, stops due to lack of maintenance or basic parts for the vehicles. Currently, only one ship transports gas by sea.

With the quarantine caused by the coronavirus epidemic, the sale of gas cylinders began to be articulated by the Communal Councils, a kind of community organization created by the Chávez government. This structure implies more bureaucracy for the buyer. Some communities denounce the existence of mafias that control access to the product.

In addition, there is a deficit of 12 million gas cylinders throughout the country. Only three million units are in good condition, considering that the useful life of a cylinder is about ten years.

When buying the part, the consumer is taken by a certain apprehension. If your cylinder disappears, getting another cylinder is quite difficult. The price per unit varies between US $ 0.14 and US $ 0.46, depending on the quantity of the product. However, this value is only theoretical. In practice, you need to pay more for the few bottles. In the illegal market, the value of a bottle ranges between 8 and 15 dollars. If you compare it with the 400,000 bolivars of the Venezuelan minimum wage, which is equivalent to less than a dollar, the price is exorbitant.

One of the reasons for the cylinder shortage, according to the NGO Transparency International, is the smuggling of these pieces in Colombia. In the neighboring country, a cylinder is worth much more. Years ago, the state imported cylinders from Portugal and Ukraine, but could not meet domestic demand.

The wood that Venezuelans have used for cooking is sold in supermarkets, in small shops and even through street vendors, who try to earn some money to buy food.

In the interior of the country, trucks of the state company Petróleos de Venezuela Gas Comunal are seen, which were supposed to sell gas cylinders, carrying firewood. Those who can buy portable stoves powered by electricity.

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