Oil Tankers Arrive in Cuba but There Is No Fuel on the Island: Where Is the Gasoline?

Lines at the Bacuranao gas station, in Habana del Este, last Thursday. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger 14ymedio, Madrid, 24 April 2023 — Despite the incessant arrival of oil tankers with all kinds of hydrocarbons in the main ports of the country, the director of Cuba Petróleo (Cupet), Néstor Pérez Franco, insists that the Island has problems with fuel imports. And, by the way, he denies the rumors that attribute the shortage to the export of refined gasoline on the Island, with the aim of obtaining foreign currency.

“For several months we have had limitations on imports of refinable crude oil and derivatives of diesel and gasoline, as explained by the Minister of Energy and Mines, Vicente de la O Levy, in an interview on April 12,” the director told Cubadebate, and he said that refineries cannot process as they should, preventing the necessary fuel for the economy and the population from being guaranteed.

“We cannot allow things to be distorted, or create more disagreements than we already have with the shortages that we all suffer, and which we are working to reduce as soon as possible,” he added. Protests have begun to be seen in some parts of the Island, and, although for now they are not widespread, what happened in the summer of 2022 could be repeated, something that generates fear in the Government.

Pérez Franco explained that “one of the closest suppliers” of refinable crude oil and derivatives — he didn’t say which one, but everything indicates that it’s Venezuela — “has been subjected to war, with sabotage to their facilities and limitations of spare parts and resources. They have guaranteed the supply of some products to alleviate the existing situation but it doesn’t cover all the demand.”

In addition, the director added that since consumption cannot be guaranteed, it is impossible to export gasoline and that, with regard to refinable crude oil, “although it is true that they could guarantee the country’s consumption, with the limitations they have imposed on imports and the high prices of the markets, it is very difficult for the country to access that product.”

The authorities thus try to settle the doubts sown from a theory exposed by the specialist Jorge Piñon, director of the Energy Program for Latin America and the Caribbean at the University of Texas. Last week, Piñon questioned the statements of the Minister of Energy and Mines in statements to Martí Noticias based on the shipments received from Venezuela and Russia.

The first shipment, according to Reuters data, was large — 1.53 million barrels of fuel oil and heavy oil — sent to the Island at the end of March. The second, with 980,000 barrels of diesel, arrived in Cuba, Uruguay and Panama in the same month.

“It is possible that the need for money and the need for foreign exchange is so great that they are willing to sacrifice domestic demand and create this situation. It can backfire from a political, social and even economic point of view. But it is possible, because it has happened in other years, that Cuba is exporting gasoline once again, to generate the currency it needs,” Piñon suggested to the media, based in Miami.

His statements spread like wildfire on social networks and generated a lot of discomfort in a population that has been lining up at gas stations for weeks without being able to access a drop of fuel, whose lack also affects electricity generation. The shortage is already so evident that this weekend the modification of classes has been announced in several Cuban universities, which have had to rethink how to plan coursework under such adverse circumstances. In some cases, virtual classes have been chosen, and in others, the return to the classroom is postponed until after the May 1st holiday, when the parade is to take place.

The May 1 pageantry is another cause of indignation among the population, which fails to understand how the government can even consider having an event that generates so much demand for fuel when the population suffers from shortages and companies face suspension of activity. Among the comments, the idea of suspending the event was very present, although others gave alternative options. “Don’t even dream about suspending it. The parade will take place on foot or by bicycle,” replied a reader.

Proposals abound in the suggestions, from organizing the supply by letter on the vehicle license plate to considering that the government stop subsidizing gasoline, even if it is difficult, and that fuel consumption by tourism vehicles should be charged in freely convertible currency.

Although many appreciate the director’s explanations in order to “attack fake news,” another reader raised the possibility that there could be a third party in charge of the work that Cuba Petróleo refuses to do. “Cupet does not export. Does Cupet have an export license? Is Cuba exporting or is it joint ventures that export, which is possible and logical? And there is nothing to complain about; they are mixed entities or 100% South American, and they pay Cuba to use and exploit the refineries.”

Translated by Regina Anavy


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