2/2 © Reuters. People queue for gas in Havana, Cuba, March 21, 2022. REUTERS/Stringer 2/2

By Dave Sherwood

HAVANA (Reuters) – Hours of queues formed at gas stations in Cuba’s capital Havana on Monday after local media reported fuel rationing in at least one province amid a caustic economic crisis that has already left food and medicine in short supply around the world. Island.

Geobel Quintero, a program coordinator for the Matanzas provincial government, told local media that rationing had begun in that province on Sunday, but downplayed the problem and blamed the shortage mainly on distribution issues.

“This is not the result of a fuel shortage in the country,” Quintero told the provincial state newspaper Giron. “This is a temporary problem.”

Quintero said in the report that state-owned Transcupet, which supplies fuel to the country’s gas stations, was operating only 62% of its vans. Logistical problems had hampered distribution, the report said.

News of the rationing quickly spread through the neighboring province of Havana, where the remaining fuel was picked up quickly on Sunday, leaving little petrol and diesel available at stations in Havana on Monday.

“I’ve been here since 7 this morning and now it’s 11:30 am, four o’clock,” said Jorge Paez, 53, a self-employed person who waits in a nearly kilometer-long line to refuel his Soviet-era motorcycle and sidecar. “This is a situation that repeats itself every three months… and the problem is never solved.”

The Cuban government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Officials in Cuba have previously blamed the decades-long US embargo and more recent, harsh sanctions under former US President Donald Trump for making foreign fuel imports to the island more difficult.

Cuba’s ailing fuel supply is also a result of dwindling domestic production, limited refining capacity and reliance on ally Venezuela, which has its own production problems, according to Jorge Piñon, a professor and energy policy expert at the University of Texas at Austin.

“Cuba’s current fuel challenge is a result of low refinery production and their inability to buy gasoline and diesel (with cash) in international oil markets to supplement their Venezuelan oil supplies, due to high oil prices,” Piñon said.

The long lines also reflect a deepening economic crisis that flared up with the new US sanctions in 2019 and worsened with the coronavirus pandemic.

Tourism, a major driver of foreign exchange, is also struggling to recover, leaving the country without the money it needs to buy much-needed food, fuel, medicines, raw materials and spare parts.

“It’s going to be ugly, very ugly. We don’t know how this will end,” said Jorge Luis Mendez, 55, a state worker who waited for a tanker to fill a gas station on Havana’s waterfront. “There are too many problems, but hey, we keep going.”

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