President Nicolas Maduro said he has appointed a team of specialists to consider whether the price of the world’s cheapest petrol in Venezuela should rise for drivers in the crisis-stricken nation.
Venezuela boasts the world’s largest underground oil reserves but, unable to pump crude from the ground, it has been forced to buy fuel from Iran to bridge deep shortages.
“The gasoline that we have brought from abroad, from Iran and other countries, we have paid for in dollars,” Mr Maduro said on Wednesday. “Many people have suggested to me, and I agree, that gasoline must come at a price.”
Petrol currently costs less than one US cent a gallon (about 4 fils per litre) in Venezuela.
Fuel shortages have plagued the socialist nation for years, but scarcity has even hit the capital of Caracas recently, sparking mile-long lines at filling stations that last for days.
Mr Maduro often accuses US sanctions aimed at forcing him from power for chronic shortages and most other domestic troubles, while critics of the socialist government blame years of corruption and mismanagement that have destroyed its oil industry.
The fuel shortages have sparked a black market in Caracas, where wealthy residents who have dollars and do not want to wait in line pay up to $10 a gallon — making it among the world’s most expensive petrol.
Tampering with fuel prices in the past has been an explosive subject. In 1999, riots broke out leading to roughly 300 deaths when then-President Carlos Andres Perez ordered an increase.
Officials say the nearly-free petrol costs the cash-strapped Venezuelan government up to $18 billion a year.
Mr Maduro did not indicate how much drivers may end up paying for fuel. He said only that it needed to be set at a “fair” price as part of a plan of “regularisation, normalisation and distribution”.