Despite a crackdown by the authorities, fuel theft continues in Cuba as the island faces shortages aggravated by sanctions on its principal supplier, Venezuela.
According to conservative estimates by the Electrical Union of Cuba, almost 2.5 million liters of diesel disappeared from the Santa Fe power plant in Guanabacoa on September 4, Cuba Debate reported. That amount of fuel is enough to provide electricity to 52,000 homes in a single month.
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Managers and operators at the site used smaller quantities of diesel than planned, and then they transported the leftover fuel off site in construction trucks before selling it to individual drivers or entire nearby communities.
Some 300 cases of fuel theft are currently being prosecuted in Cuba. The provinces of Havana, Villa Clara, and Holguín accounted for the highest number of cases related to fuel theft. Holguín recorded 48 cases, and Havana and Villa Clara recorded 42 and 32 cases respectively. Cuba’s Deputy Attorney General, Reinaldo Cruz Rivera, told media that state employees working in fuel distribution centers were mostly to blame, siphoning off gasoline for sale on the black market.
The appeal of the crime is clear. In June 2018, the price of a liter of fuel on the black market was between 10 to 15 Cuban pesos (about 40 to 50 US cents), as opposed to 25 pesos (about $1) at state prices, according to Ciber Cuba.
The theft only compounds the island’s fuel shortage. In January 2019, the island had a daily deficit of 25,000 barrels of oil. By August, this had worsened to 30,000 barrels, according to Cuba’s state-owned oil company, Cupet.
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The black market economy for gasoline in Cuba seems to be a mixture of opportunity and necessity. On the one hand, public sector salaries in Cuba are low, making it tempting for workers at state fuel facilities to sell some off for extra cash. On the other, the shortage has become so dire that, in the summer of 2018, licensed car owners could only buy half a liter of gasoline per day at state gas stations.
As US sanctions have hit Cuba’s main oil supplier, Venezuela, the flow of oil to the island has slowed. The United States has also sanctioned the maritime shipping companies that transport oil between the two countries.
Cuba has imposed tight fuel rationing to cope with the reduced supply, leading to yet another black market among many on the island.
Oil theft has become a hot-button issue across Latin America. In Mexico, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has cracked down on oil theft, while criminal gangs in countries like Honduras are also behind fuel theft.