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Toxic Spills in Venezuela Offer a Bleak Vision of the End of Oil

Maduro’s government is squeezing what it can from the collapsing industry — and unleashing an environmental disaster in the process.

Cardon refinery burns off waste hydrocarbons on Nov. 17 in an effort to produce fuel. 

Cardon refinery burns off waste hydrocarbons on Nov. 17 in an effort to produce fuel. 

Photographer: Adriana Loureiro Fernandez for Bloomberg Green

Tropical rains have washed away most outward traces of the oil spill that ravaged Rio Seco this fall. But the fishing village in the shadow of Venezuela’s main refining hub bears the scars of deeper contamination.

Boats with oil-stained hulls must now travel further out into the Caribbean to make a catch. Crude has soaked the roots of nearby mangroves, leaving shrimp grounds barren. Seeing no future, dozens of fishermen and their families have fled their homes; those who are left loiter in the village, waiting for Petroleos de Venezuela, the state oil company known as PDVSA, to compensate for lost boats, equipment and sales.