Long lines formed at gas stations across Argentina on Monday as growing demand outstripped supply, becoming a campaign issue just weeks before the second round of the country's presidential race.
Economy Minister Sergio Massa, one of the two remaining presidential candidates, blamed oil companies for the lack of supply in the South American country and threatened to ban their exports if the situation did not immediately normalize. His rival, right-wing populist Javier Milei, blamed the shortage on the leftist policies of the current government.
Meanwhile, the country's oil companies blamed the shortfall on a series of unrelated events in recent days, but sought to avoid any continued hoarding or panic buying by assuring the public that their production capacity was "solid."
Carlos Pinto, a driver, said he had been waiting in line forever at a gas station in Buenos Aires on Monday.
“We waited hours to fill up,” Pinto complained. "It's terrible for those of us who work on our cars."
There was a surge in demand even before the first round of the country's presidential election on October 22, when Massa received 37% of the vote, but not enough to avoid a second round on November 19 against Milei, who won 30%.
Argentines are enduring an annual inflation rate of almost 140% and the prospect of additional uncertainty and price increases as a result of the election led many residents to rush to stock up on goods ahead of the first round of elections. Queues at gas stations began to form late last week and continued into the weekend.
Massa accused oil companies of holding back shares amid speculation there would be a spike in prices around the election, and said he would take steps to shut down crude oil exports if the situation did not normalize by Tuesday night. .
The local price of gas at the pump is strictly controlled by the government and is lower than what companies can receive on the international market.
"When they prefer to export rather than supply the local market, we have the responsibility to remain firm," Massa said in an interview on local television on Monday.
Milei, for his part, said the shortage was a result of government price controls. “Shortage and inflation are direct consequences of the model defended by this government of criminals, with Minister Massa at the helm,” Milei wrote on social networks.
The oil companies said in a joint statement on Monday that they had implemented "an action plan to strengthen full supply in the service station network and restore operating stock levels throughout the chain until returning to normal." The plan, which was agreed with government authorities, included an increase in imports.
Over the weekend, businesses said they had been pushed to capacity, in part due to an increase in demand due to a long weekend and increased agricultural activity. They also said some refineries were affected by planned maintenance operations that reduced capacity.
But the statement from the country's main oil refineries, led by the state-owned YPF, also said that the country's "infrastructure for the production and supply of fuels is solid." And on Monday they said that “the situation is returning to normal.”
Argentina normally imports around 20% of the refined fuel used in the country.