CARACAS, Venezuela — The falling oil prices that are providing relief to drivers around the world threaten to bring more misery to the life of Milagro Alvarez and millions of other Venezuelans, whose country depends almost exclusively on oil revenue.
The math teacher has been getting up before dawn each day and rushing out to hunt for disposable diapers, one of scores of products that have been in short supply due to price restrictions and currency controls put in place by the socialist government long before the slide in petroleum prices.
“The government says we’re a rich country, so why do we have to stand in line and beg to buy diapers?” said Alvarez, standing under a pink umbrella to protect herself and her 5-month-old daughter Annabeth from the blazing sun after three hours queued up in front of a Farmatodo store.
The country with the world’s largest oil reserves was struggling to keep shelves filled even when crude was selling for $100 a barrel or more. Now, prices for benchmark Brent crude have fallen $28 in the past four months, to $86, the result of too much supply and weaker global demand.
In Venezuela, where 95 percent of exports are oil, the decline represents a huge loss of income to pay for everything from imported milk to foreign debt, from social programs to billions in subsidized oil for allies in the Caribbean and Central America.
The government has called for an emergency summit of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to discuss cutting production to raise prices — a position that could face opposition by other cartel members.
But it has given no hint of how it will make up for the revenue loss in the meantime. President Nicolas Maduro has assured Wall Street that the country won’t default on its debt and has told poor Venezuelans that their social benefits are safe.
“There’ll be no catastrophe or collapse,” Maduro said last week. “Venezuela has guaranteed all the resources it needs to keep prospering.”
Alvarez said she’s too busy looking after her family to worry about politics. She’s down to her last four packs of diapers and worries that if oil prices keep falling, the shortages will become more severe.
“I bought three dozen cloth diapers, but I couldn’t find any detergent to wash them so I gave up,” said Alvarez, whose salary is worth barely $120 a month on the black market. “The situation is so chaotic, I can’t imagine what things will be like if oil keeps falling.”