Venezuela, Once an Oil Giant, Reaches the End of an Era
For the first time in a century, there are no rigs searching for oil in Venezuela.
Wells that once tapped the world’s largest crude reserves are abandoned or left to flare toxic gases that cast an orange glow over depressed oil towns.
Refineries that once processed oil for export are rusting hulks, leaking crude that blackens shorelines and coats the water in an oily sheen.
Fuel shortages have brought the country to a standstill. At gas stations, lines go on for miles.
Venezuela’s colossal oil sector, which shaped the country and the international energy market for a century, has come to a near halt, with production reduced to a trickle by years of gross mismanagement and U.S. sanctions. The collapse is leaving behind a destroyed economy and a devastated environment and, many analysts say, bringing to an end the era of Venezuela as an energy powerhouse.
The country that a decade ago was the largest producer in Latin America, earning about $90 billion a year from oil exports, is expected to net about $2.3 billion by this year’s end — less than the aggregate amount that Venezuelan migrants who fled the country’s economic devastation will send back home to support their families, according to Pilar Navarro, a Caracas, Venezuela-based economist.
Production is the lowest in nearly a century after sanctions forced most oil companies to stop drilling for or buying Venezuelan oil — and even that trickle could dry up soon, analysts warn.
The decline has diminished beyond recognition a country that just a decade ago rivaled the United States for regional influence. It is also unraveling a national culture defined by oil, a source of cash that once seemed endless; it financed monumental public works and pervasive graft, generous scholarships and flashy shopping trips to Miami.
Crippling gasoline shortages have led to an outbreak of dozens of daily protests across most Venezuelan states in recent weeks.
More than 5 million Venezuelans, or 1 in 6 residents, have fled the country since 2015, creating one of the world’s greatest refugee crises, according to the United Nations. The country now has the highest poverty rate in Latin America, overtaking Haiti this year, according to a recent study by Venezuela’s three leading universities.
文／Sheyla Urdaneta, Anatoly Kurmanaev and Isayen Herrera 譯／李京倫、核稿／樂慧生