Riots predicted if Govt raises price of petrol.

In the socialist state of Venezuela that is home to the world's largest oil and gas reserves, petrol is cheaper than water. But not for much longer.

At a state-run petrol station in central Caracas, drivers hand over six bolivars - $1.20 at the official rate, about 10c at the black market rate - for a tank of subsidised petrol.

Adding the bills to his oil-stained bundle, Juan Torres, the attendant, laments that this will soon change.

"I'd heard that the Government was going to raise petrol costs, but they'll have to be extremely careful," he says. "Venezuelans won't accept unfair prices."


As global oil prices slump, President Nicolas Maduro has horrified Venezuelans by becoming the first politician in a decade to broach a rise in petrol prices. It is a risky - potentially even politically fatal - move.

The last attempt to raise prices prompted the "Caracazo", the 1989 riots and subsequent massacre by security forces that left several hundred people dead and which remains a vivid scar on the Venezuelan political memory.

"You'll see strikes and riots. The country will come to a standstill," said Maryelis Rodriguez, who had stopped to refill her car at a government station in the Caracas district of La Castellana.

Handing over less than the price of a potato for 60 litres of petrol, she said Venezuelans felt they had a right to cheap fuel.

"We see so much corruption in government that we will defend the only remaining luxury that we enjoy as a nation," she said. "Petrol price rises will never be accepted by the Venezuelan people."

Inflation is so rampant - 52.6 per cent last year - that many shops stopped printing price tags. Most Venezuelans face a constant struggle to make ends meet. But the petrol pump has been the one place where they do not have to scrimp.

While a lack of imports and strict currency controls make basic goods ever scarcer and more expensive, petrol remains plentiful and cheap, with prices having been frozen for the past 15 years at about 0.07 bolivars a litre. A litre of bottled water costs about 1.5 bolivars. A kilo of onions costs 120 bolivars.

The abundance of fuel has shaped a nation where energy is not saved but spent with abandon: gas-guzzling 4WDs clog city roads, waiting taxi drivers leave their engines running for hours and unoccupied hobs flame away in kitchens.