Skip to comments.Venezuela Oil Workers' Dispute Could Threaten Supplies for U.S.
Posted on 04/06/2002 4:49:19 AM PST by sarcasm
ARACAS, Venezuela, April 5 (AP) The government and protesting oil workers dug in their heels today in a worsening labor dispute at one of the world's largest petroleum companies. The dispute prompted Venezuelans to line up by the thousands at gasoline stations and it could disrupt world oil markets.
Stopping short of calling a full-blown strike, thousands of workers at the state-owned Petróleos de Venezuela stayed home, closed installations and slowed gasoline and oil tanker deliveries.
The protesters want President Hugo Chávez to remove company directors they consider political appointees and replace them with company veterans. They also want reinstatement of executives who were recently fired because they opposed the board.
President Chávez insists he will not allow the dispute to affect exports. Venezuela has 10 days' reserves of oil for export and gasoline for domestic consumption.
Describing the conflict as "very worrisome," John H. Lichtblau, chairman of the Petroleum Industry Research Foundation in New York, said: "Venezuela has been a top foreign source for the United States for a long time. Potentially, this is a bigger threat for the U.S. market than disruptions in the Middle East, which are hypothetical. This isn't hypothetical."
A clash on Thursday between government supporters and opposition party members at a drilling site in Monagas State killed two oil workers and injured three, the police said today.
Oil provides one-third of Venezuela's $110 billion annual gross domestic product, 80 percent of its export earnings and half the government's income. Venezuela shipped an average of 1.3 million barrels a day of crude oil and 400,000 barrels a day in refined products to the United States last year.
President Chávez already faces a three-week-old doctors' strike, a strike next week at Central University and threats by the million-member Venezuelan Workers Confederation to call a general strike later this month. Most conflicts involve wage disputes.
These numbers are based on my own quick calculations from DOE data, so you may want to verify for yourself.
Filed at 4:29 p.m. ET
CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez sacked seven dissident state oil company executives Sunday, cracking down on an escalating labor protest that is endangering oil output and shipments in the world's No. 4 petroleum exporter.
Blowing a whistle and repeating ``That's enough,'' the pugnacious president announced the sackings in a live television and radio broadcast in which he also brushed aside a call by labor opponents for a one-day national strike Tuesday.
The sackings signaled an uncompromising response by Chavez to the worsening six-week-old dispute in Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), Latin America's biggest oil company, where dissident executives and employees are demanding the resignation of a new management board appointed by Chavez.
``These people have become saboteurs of a company that belongs to all Venezuelans,'' Chavez said, declaring that he intended to overhaul the state oil giant ``from top to bottom.''
He also announced a further 12 PDVSA executives were being retired from their jobs.
An all-out strike in PDVSA, a leading supplier of crude oil and refined products to the United States, could cripple Venezuela's oil-reliant economy. It would also seriously threaten Chavez, an outspoken left-wing populist who is confronting mounting opposition to his three-year-old rule.
The sacked PDVSA executives responded defiantly. ``We are not afraid,'' one of them, Horacio Medina, said.
Surrounded by colleagues chanting ``Not one step backwards,'' Medina vowed to step up the protest campaign which the PDVSA dissidents say has halted at least two refineries and disrupted domestic gasoline supplies and international oil shipments.
But Chavez denied this and said the country's oil output and shipments were continuing normally, although he said one refinery, El Palito west of Caracas, had been shut down by what he called ``subversive actions close to terrorism.''
``I am told that everything is normal in the oil industry,'' the president said.
His comments directly contradicted reports from industry and trading sources, who have said that at least two of Venezuela's oil export terminals were closed by the protest.
Chavez, a former paratrooper who has already threatened to send troops to take over PDVSA if it is halted by a strike, ruled out any dialogue with the oil firm protesters.
He said he was willing to sack all dissidents in the company's 40,000 work force if necessary.
``There will be no negotiation, no conversations, we've talked enough,'' he shouted, blowing a soccer referee's whistle and yelling ``Offside'' in English to emphasize his condemnation of the PDVSA dissidents. He said they were an overpaid elite.
Chavez, who has defiantly rejected calls from business and labor opponents to revoke ``revolutionary'' reform laws covering everything from oil and land to finance and fisheries, also scoffed at news of a 24-hour national strike announced for Tuesday by the country's largest trades union group, the CTV.
CTV (Venezuela Workers' Confederation) president Carlos Ortega, a sworn political enemy of the president, announced the one-day strike at the weekend, saying it was to protest against government policies and could be extended longer if necessary.
``Nothing can stop Venezuela ... this strike is doomed to fail,'' Chavez said.
He has repeatedly rejected the PDVSA protesters' demands that he revoke the appointment of five new PDVSA board members appointed in late February.
The PDVSA dissidents complain that Chavez's appointments disregarded the company's traditional corporate hierarchy structure and were made on the basis of political loyalty to him, rather than on professional merit.
``What they are defending are their privileges,'' Chavez said. ``We are going to open this Pandora's Box ... We are going to overhaul this company from top to bottom, he added.
Three years after he won elections with widespread support, Chavez is confronting a storm of criticism from political foes, business and labor chiefs, dissident military officers, and the opposition-dominated media.
While the president, who in 1992 failed to seize power in a botched military coup, defends his self-proclaimed ``revolution'' as a noble campaign to help the poor, his critics accuse him of trying to introduce a Cuban-style leftist regime in Venezuela.