Skip to comments.Venezuelan state oil giant PDVSA continues slowdown against government-appointed directors
Posted on 03/13/2002 11:42:34 PM PST by Cincinatus' Wife
CARACAS, Venezuela - Workers at the state oil monopoly reported to work Wednesday but said they remained idle, continuing their two-week-old push for the resignation of directors appointed by President Hugo Chavez.
Petroleos de Venezuela executives and midlevel managers were idle until noon, said Juan Fernandez, company finance director and spokesman for the protesters.
Fernandez said workers had decided against abandoning their posts for fear of being attacked by Chavez sympathizers, who have been staging noisy counter-protests in front the Caracas offices of PDVSA, as the company is known.
A PDVSA spokeswoman, who spoke on condition of anonymity, denied employees didn't work, insisting "activities were normal."
Chavez refuses to reconsider his Feb. 25 appointment of five government loyalists to the seven-member board of directors. PDVSA executives claim the new directors are unqualified and fear they were named to tighten government control of the company.
The government insists all have excellent credentials. Chavez has warned protesting personnel they may be fired, but PDVSA President Gaston Parra said Tuesday he was reluctant to take "retaliatory measures."
Interior Minister Ramon Rodriguez Chacin on Wednesday dismissed the protesters as a small group "trying to manipulate unionized workers" for political ends.
The government has suggested protesters are worried the new directors will eliminate some corporate benefits and dismissed the size of the protest, saying only 30 percent of PDVSA managers are participating.
With no end in sight to the dispute, the standoff is the worst crisis PDVSA has faced since it was created in 1975, when Venezuela nationalized its oil industry. The oil giant employs 40,000 people.
Fedepetrol, the largest oil union, said Wednesday it would back a general strike if convoked by managers. Executives have expressed reluctance to shut down an industry that provides 80 percent of Venezuela's export revenue and is the third-largest provider of crude oil to the United States.
(March 1, 2002)-- Venezuela's strongman faces widespread calls to step down By Phil Gunson | Special to The Christian Science Monitor
[Full Text] CARACAS, VENEZUELA - The man who won Venezuelan hearts three years ago as a strongman who could deliver a better life to the masses is now facing them in the streets.
More than 20,000 people turned out this week calling for the resignation of President Hugo Chávez, while some 2,000 supporters marched in a rival demonstration of support. The demonstrations come after months of building discontent with a president who has managed to alienate the labor class, the media, business groups, the church, political parties, and the military.
Four military leaders have publicly called for his resignation.
In November, Chávez introduced 49 "revolutionary" decrees. The package of laws - affecting everything from land rights and fisheries to the oil industry - unified virtually the whole of organized society in a nationwide business and labor stoppage that paralyzed the country on Dec. 10.
The protests this week have a note of irony, because they started out as a commemoration called by President Chávez. In his eyes, Feb. 27 is a milestone of his so-called revolution - "the date on which the people awoke" in 1989. That is when thousands of rioters and looters took to the streets in protest of an IMF-backed austerity plan, in which the government hiked gas prices.
In what became known as the caracazo, or noisy protest, thousands of rioters and looters were met by Venezuelan military forces, and hundreds were killed. Three years later, Chávez and his military co-conspirators failed in an attempt to overthrow the government responsible for the massacre, that of President Carlos Andres Perez. Chávez was jailed for two years.
"But the elements that brought about the caracazo are still present in Venezuela," says lawyer Liliana Ortega, who for 13 years has led the fight for justice on behalf of the victims' relatives. "Poverty, corruption, impunity ... some of them are perhaps even more deeply ingrained than before."
Chávez's supporters consist of an inchoate mass of street traders, the unemployed, and those whom the old system had marginalized. This, to Chávez, is el pueblo - the people.
"But we are 'the people' too," protests teacher Luis Leonet. "We're not oligarchs like he says. The oligarchs are people like Chávez, people with power."
On Wednesday, Leonet joined a march led by the main labor confederation, the CTV, to protest what unions say is a series of antilabor measures, including one of the 49 decrees dealing with public-sector workers.
Chávez won't talk to the CTV, whose leaders, he says, are corrupt and illegitimate. So he refuses to negotiate the annual renewal of collective contracts with the confederation, holding up deals on pay and conditions for hundreds of thousands of union members like Leonet.
Across town on Wednesday, a progovernment march sought to demonstrate that the president's popularity was as high as ever.
"For the popular classes, Chávez is an idol," says marcher Pedro Gutierrez.
Pollster Luis Vicente Leon, of the Datanalisis organization, warns that marches are no measure of relative popularity. "There is a lot of discontent among ... the really poor," Leon says, adding that so far the protests are mainly among the middle class.
But the middle class can be a dangerous enemy. It includes the bulk of the armed forces, and the management of the state oil company, PDVSA.
This month, four uniformed officers, ranging from a National Guard captain to a rear-admiral and an Air Force general, called on the president to resign, while repudiating the idea of a military coup of Chávez, himself a former Army lieutenant-colonel.
But senior "institutionalist" officers "are under severe pressure from lower ranks frustrated at the lack of impact" that these acts have had, a source close to military dissidents says. In other words, a coup cannot be ruled out, although the United States publicly denounces the idea.
Meanwhile, the president's imposition of a new board of directors on PDVSA this week sparked a virtual uprising by the company's senior management. In an unprecedented public statement, managers said the government was pushing the company "to the verge of operational and financial collapse" by imposing political, rather than commercial, criteria.
The political opposition remains relatively weak and divided. But in the view of many analysts, a president who offends both the military and the oil industry is asking for trouble. In the bars and restaurants of Caracas, the debate is no longer over whether Chávez will finish his term, which has nearly five years to run. It is when and how he will go - and what comes next.
U.S. planning to keep corrupt Latin American officials out- ''People will understand that we are serious about going after government corruption,'' he added. ``There is a very selfish reason for this: We end up paying for the bill when these people steal the money, because we have to provide aid, or accept the citizens as refugees or as migrants.''