CARACAS, Venezuela — While U.S. consumers struggle with soaring energy prices, Venezuela’s gas is now the world’s cheapest at 12 cents a gallon and Washington’s regional foe, President Hugo Chavez, vows to maintain subsidies that keep fuel dirt-cheap. ‘Those gringos have everything — so why does their gas cost so much?’ asked Tinoco between chuckles as he navigated a midday traffic jam. ‘Don’t they have oil reserves?’ Chavez, a self-proclaimed socialist and critic of President Bush, has even begun subsidizing fuel for poor U.S. neighborhoods as U.S. consumers brace for average summer gas prices of $2.71 a gallon — 34 cents higher than last summer. In Venezuela, the world’s No. 5 oil exporter, drivers fill their tanks for less than the price of a cheap breakfast, and love to point out that gasoline costs less than mineral water. The nation’s gasoline is now the world’s cheapest, according to an International Monetary Fund report released in April that shows Venezuelan gas prices as about a third of those in oil-producing giant Saudi Arabia. Shiny SUVs and rusty 1970s-era sedans share the streets of Venezuelan cities as drivers shrug off fuel costs. Low-priced fuel is considered […]

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