American sanctions on oil-rich Venezuela appear to be taking hold, resulting in mile-long queues for fuel in the South American nation’s second largest city, Maracaibo.
Some drivers reported having to wait almost 24 hours to fill up, with people sleeping on the top of their cars or in truck beds.
Nearing empty and stuck in line, infectious diseases doctor Yoli Urdaneta said she could not make her shift to treat patients.
“I’ve spent four days trying to get gasoline,” Ms Urdaneta said. “But I couldn’t.”
A satellite over Maracaibo earlier in the week captured pictures of cars queued for a mile (1.6 kilometres) through the city to the pumps, according to Maxar Technologies, a US-based space technology company.
Russ Dallen, a Miami-based partner at the brokerage firm Caracas Capital Markets, said on Sunday that stiff US sanctions on top of decaying refineries had begun to hit home.
Mr Dallen said Venezuela did not have the cash to import key ingredients to keep up production in a country with the world’s largest oil reserves, and estimated that the state-run oil firm PDVSA was producing 10 to 15% of its capacity.
“It’s all coming together into a toxic brew,” Mr Dallen said.
“That is really having a devastating effect.”
The Trump administration this year sanctioned PDVSA in a bid to drive President Nicolas Maduro from office, while throwing its support behind opposition leader Juan Guado.
The US sanctions essentially cut Mr Maduro’s government off from its Houston-based subsidiary Citgo, depriving officials of an estimated $11 billion in hard currency from exports this year.
US officials said this cash flow had long bankrolled what they called Mr Maduro’s “dictatorship”.
Sanctions also put the squeeze on Venezuela’s access to diluents needed to thin its heavy crude product so it could be piped over 100 miles (160km) from the field to be turned into petrol.
And the political stalemate shows few signs of drawing to an end.
In a recent flurry of diplomatic activity aimed at peacefully solving Venezuela’s crisis, European officials said they held intensive meetings over two days in Caracas with key players.
At about the same time, Mr Maduro’s government and the opposition sent representatives to talks in Norway.
Officials engaged in both efforts reported no breakthroughs.
The panic over shortages has crept into the capital, Caracas, leading to moderately long lines for the last three days at many stations.