Exclusive: Venezuela increased fuel exports to allies even as supply crunch loomed

A gasoline shortage in OPEC member Venezuela was exacerbated by an increase in fuel exports to foreign allies such as Cuba and Nicaragua and an exodus of crucial personnel from state-run energy company PDVSA, according to internal PDVSA documents and sources familiar with its operations. Leftist-run Venezuela sells its citizens the world’s cheapest gasoline. Fuel supplies have continued flowing despite a domestic oil industry in turmoil and a deepening economic crisis under President Nicolas Maduro that has left the South American country with scant supplies of many basic necessities. That changed on Wednesday, when Venezuelans faced their first nationwide shortage of motor fuel since an explosion ripped through one of the world’s largest refineries five years ago. At the time, the government of then-President Hugo Chavez curbed exports to guarantee there was enough fuel at home. This week’s shortage was also mainly due to problems at refineries, as a mix of plant glitches and maintenance cut fuel production in half. Unlike five years ago, Caracas has continued exporting fuel to political allies and even raised the volume of shipments last month despite warnings within the government-run company that doing so could trigger a domestic supply crunch. Shipments from refineries to the domestic market needed to be redirected to meet those export commitments, the internal documents showed. “Should this additional volume … be exported, it would impact a cargo scheduled for the local market,” read one email sent from an official in the company’s domestic marketing department to its international trade unit. Venezuela last month exported 88,000 barrels per day (bpd) of fuels – equivalent to a fifth of its domestic consumption – to Cuba, Nicaragua and other countries, according to internal PDVSA documents seen by Reuters. That was up 22,000 bpd on the volumes Venezuela had been shipping to those two countries under accords struck by Chavez to expand his diplomatic clout by lowering their fuel costs through cheap supplies of crude and fuel. The order to increase exports came from PDVSA’s top executives, according to the internal emails seen by Reuters. Venezuela’s oil ministry and state-run PDVSA, formally known as Petroleos de Venezuela SA, did not reply to requests for comment for this story.