By Irene Revilla.
Additional reporting by Carlos Camacho.
A makeshift refinery in the woods, an old PDVSA oil well, and nine individuals achieved produce gasoline and diesel.
The Scientific police busted an illegal refinery operating in a wooded at Mene Mauroa, a town located in Falcon state. In the clandestine refinery, a group of nine men processed gasoline and diesel in an artisanal manner; then, products were sold on the black market for three dollars per liter, six times the international price. And they had plenty of clients, too, according to police. Another illegal refinery got busted in the area in 2020.
Subsidized gasoline sells for about 0,02 dollars a liter but is almost impossible to get unless you work with the government or are a member of the PSUV ruling party: continuous devaluation also means the fuel is “cheaper” every day in dollar terms. $0,50/liter is a price few Venezuelans can afford after four years of hyperinflation and a GDP contraction that began in 2014.
So why were there people willing to pay up to six times more? Subsidized or not, the state of disrepair of Venezuelan refineries and the spotty importing of gasoline from Iran by the Maduro regime means gasoline is hard to get, at any price, and that leaves a lot of opportunities open for ventures such as the one Maduro’s cops just busted.
The gang extracted the oil from one of the pits, which once was used by PDVSA, then refined it in an artisanal way in a laboratory, located a few meters away and with recycled objects.
The nine alleged fuel producers are on age between 19 and 52 years old.
As evidence, the police seized 23 drums of different sizes with 680 liters of what seemed crude oil. Besides, two drums with five liters of handmade gasoline; four-cylinders used as boilers for distillation; a wheelbarrow, 100 meters of rope; one pulley with a metallic base and two metal cylinders that serve as collectors of raw material.