Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA increased fuel shipments to Cuba this month, which is suffering from a shortage of crude oil due to the stricter sanctions the United States is applying, according to company sources and documents seen by Reuters.
Six ships, the majority owned by the PDVSA maritime unit, have exported an average of 173,000 barrels per day (bpd) of Venezuelan crude and fuel to Cuba so far this month, according to Refinitiv Eikon data and PDVSA documents.
In January, PDVSA exports to Cuba fell to their lowest level since mid-2019, to just 56,600 bpd.
"More ships are leaving Cuba for two weeks," said a shipping supervisor from a port on the west coast of Venezuela. "They come and go very fast," he added.
The sanctions imposed on PDVSA in 2019 with the objective of overthrowing Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro have slowed oil shipments to the island and contributed to the intermittent shortage of fuels.
The energy crisis in Cuba hit its sugar industry this month, with two mills that interrupted operations during the high harvest season. It has also caused lines of more than an hour at service stations, while supply at the east end of the country is delayed.
“You don't see cars in the streets. There is no transport. This is the first time this is seen so critical here in Santiago, ”said private taxi driver Fidel Gonzalez, 37, by phone from Santiago de Cuba.
The service stations received some supplies on Wednesday for the first time in a week, he added, although gasoline lasted a few hours.
A similar shortage in September led PDVSA to send a fleet with emergency fuel charges and other refined products to Cuba. However, the aid was short-lived as the sanctions cut the number of ships available to transport oil from PDVSA to Cuba.
Havana has tried to diversify its imports in recent weeks with ships arriving from Argentina, Algeria and Curaçao, according to Eikon data.
But since the arrivals have been insufficient, the island seems to prioritize energy generation over the supply of engine fuel and fuel for industrial customers, said analyst Jorge Piñón, of the University of Texas, Austin. It was not immediately possible to obtain data on the national fuel production of Cuba.
"There are still many things we don't know about how they handle their supply levels and inventory of crude and products," Piñón said. "What is very clear is his continued dependence on Venezuela," he added.
Broader economic crisis
The fuel crisis in Cuba last week affected the tourism sector, one of the main sources of foreign exchange. The agencies could only rent cars with a limited fuel quota that was barely enough to move around Havana, although the situation had returned to normal on Thursday.
"Life is getting more complicated here every day," said Virginia Montes de Oca, after waiting two hours to fill her gas tank. There were still a dozen cars in front of her.
During the last year, Cuba has faced a shortage of everything, not just fuel, after the US sanctions aggravated a liquidity crisis that began with the decrease in Venezuelan aid four years ago.
The director general for the United States of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cuba, Carlos Fernández de Cossío, said on Twitter that Washington's sanctions were "brutal and immoral."
"They do not hide the desired objective of punishing the entire po[CENSORED]tion to extract political concessions," he said. "It is a miracle that the situation is not worse and that the country still enjoys peace and stability," he said.
Washington accuses the Cuban government of providing security assistance to shore up Maduro.