PetroCaribe all dried up?

By Benjamin Flowers
Staff Reporter

Belize has suspended buying fuel from Venezuela with immediate effect, leaving the often controversial and politically polarizing PetroCaribe treasure trove, all but dried up and far from its glory days of “rolling”.
Alba PetroCaribe Belize Energy Limited (APBEL), the company in Belize that buys fuel from the Venezuelan state-owned oil and natural gas company Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), suspended buying petroleum products under the arrangement this week.

General Manager of Alba PetroCaribe Belize Energy Limited, John Mencias, wrote a letter to stakeholders stating that the suspension comes after months of continued problems maintaining a reliable supply of fuel from PDVSA.

Mencias explained that the issues which began in early 2017, have, among other things, caused an increase in the unit cost of freight. Frieight costs went up whenever the importer, Trafigura/Puma, was forced to make last-minute arrangements to truck products over land instead of by sea, and when vessels were brought in half-loaded.
“We have also been informed by PDVSA that, at times, they have had to purchase on the spot market to meet their commitments to us: This is definitely not what was intended by the PetroCaribe program,” Mencias said.

He added that Belize is “very grateful” to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and PDVSA for attempting to keep their promises under the PetroCaribe Program. However, he added that it “does not make sense” to try and maintain the program under the circumstances.

The Government of Belize, PDVSA, Trafigura/Puma and APBEL are scheduled to meet sometime in September to discuss the possibility of resuming supply from PDVSA, and to find a suitable way forward. To ensure that the supply chain of petroleum products to Belize remains uninterrupted, Puma has made alternative arrangements for fuel importation.

The suspension comes at the height of the social crisis in Venezuela, where the country has been rocked by months of civil unrest, widespread poverty and a complete upending of the country’s democratic processes by president Nicolás Maduro.

Since the start of the year, Belize has also seen a number of price increases at the pump, with the most recent price hike being attributed to the effects of Hurricane Harvey in Texas last month. The Reporter tried reaching Mencias for comment on whether the abrupt suspension would have an effect on the cost of fuel at the pump in coming days, but he was unavailable for comment.

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