By Jesymar Añez. Additional reporting by Carlos Camacho in Caracas.
At least 77 protests for domestic gas have taken place in Monagas state, the state with the largest natural gas reserves in Venezuela, so far in October, according to a tally kept by El Pitazo. Of the 77 protests, 85% of them occurred in the capital city of Maturin.
The bottling and distribution of domestic gas were in private hands until Hugo Chavez nationalized the industry, beginning in 2007. Shortages have gotten more and more acute over the years, and now some 4 million households are cooking with firewood, according to the National Assembly.
According to PDVSA Gas figures, Venezuela has the fourth-largest known natural-gas reserves on the planet. And the bulk of those reserves is located in Monagas.
This week, there were two demonstrations: in the Sabana Grande zone, where for three days, the inhabitants carried out the empty cylinder to the street. The other took place in Los Guaritos, where the neighbors decided to block the main avenue because representatives of the Government of Monagas broke their promise to sell them cylinders.
But the natural gas that was once readily available and cheap is now expensive or unobtainable, and neighbors have opted for deforestation and pollution instead.
“In Los Guaritos, people have chosen to cut down the trees on the avenues to cook in the backyards of the houses, because the money is not enough to buy firewood from the street vendors and not enough to buy the electric stoves,” said Los Guaritos resident Gabriela Gomez.
The firewood package gets sold on avenues of Maturin for up to seven dollars, and residents say that is only enough to cook for two days if the wood is of good quality or if foods get prepared with little cooking time.
“Our pockets can’t take it anymore. The government has to solve the problem of domestic gas,” Gomez added.
Regarding the absence of domestic gas, Governor Yelitze Santaella said on October 22, in her radio show, that production paralyzed in the plants where natural gas from the oil fields is still burning. In both plants, the fluids are separated and sent to the Jose Antonio Anzoategui refinery, where the gas is fractionated and then sent to homes.
That day, Santaella said that the neighborhood blockades do not solve the problem and, at the same time, asked for a vote of confidence from the residents to solve the domestic gas situation by the end of November, before the elections called by the government of Nicolas Maduro for December 6.
However, she didn’t say how they solve the cooking gas problem.