1/24/07 Gas was .12 a gal in 2007 = Venezuelans upset with gas hike plans
01/25/07 12:00 am (EST)
CARACAS, Venezuela (AFX)- Raising gasoline prices is a risky business in
Past price hikes have sparked deadly rioting in a nation where gasoline
costs as little as ''''12 cents a gallon (US$0.03 or euro0.03 a liter)'''and low
prices are seen as a birthright. Now a plan by President Hugo Chavez's
government to raise fuel prices has motorists fuming once again.
It's not clear how high prices could creep since officials have yet to
decide on the details of the nation's first fuel price hike in roughly 10 years,
but most Venezuelans say even a small increase is unacceptable.
"An oil country should have low prices," said Ruben Cornieli, who spends
6,000 bolivars (US$2.70; euro2.08) every two or three days to fill up the tank
of his gas-guzzling sport utility vehicle.
Government subsidies have held down prices for years, keeping them among
the lowest in the world, lower even than in fellow oil-producing countries
like Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Venezuela's leftist president has asked government officials to take
measures so the impending price increase does not affect public transportation
costs or food prices.
"It doesn't have to affect the cost of anything," Chavez said.
Venezuela's past shows he has reason to be wary of the price hike's impact.
When Venezuela's government raised fuel prices in 1989, it pushed up bus
fares and angered the country's poor majority, setting off deadly riots known
as the "Caracazo." Soldiers and police clashed with rioters in the capital
of Caracas and nearby cities, leaving more than 300 dead according to
official estimates; local human rights groups put the toll in the thousands.
Since then, governments have been wary to attempt significant price hikes.
As a result, pickup trucks, SUVs and fuel-injected sports cars are popular
among the middle and upper-classes. Old jeeps known as "rusticos" provide
public transport in the hillside slums that ring Caracas.
Nicanor Gonzalez, a 39-year-old computer technician, predicted that
Venezuela's poor would be most affected by the plan to boost gas prices because
increased transportation costs would be passed on to consumers of basic goods
such as food, medicine and clothes.
"It's the lower class that is going to be the first to be hurt because
increasing gasoline (prices) is going to increase prices for all products," he
Some Venezuelans support the price increase announced on Sunday by Chavez,
who said an increase was long overdue.
"It's outrageous to sell gasoline at the rate we are. It would be better to
give it away," Chavez said.
Chavez did not give a reason why he was raising gasoline prices, but his
opponents are speculating it is because world oil prices are slipping and he
needs the extra cash to finance what he calls his revolution in "21st-century
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