Skip to comments.Venezuela Oil Exports Hit; Army Tightens Security
Posted on 04/08/2002 1:43:04 PM PDT by Cincinatus' Wife
CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) - Venezuelan troops tightened security at oil facilities on Monday as stoppages by state oil workers halted exports, jolting the world's No. 4 oil exporter and throttling the economic lifeblood of President Hugo Chavez's government.
Armed Forces chief Gen. Lucas Rincon said that National Guard soldiers who routinely protect oilfields, refineries and oil export ports in Venezuela were being reinforced by other units of the armed forces.
"What we want to do is guarantee peace and quiet," Rincon told a news conference.
The military protection was stepped up as shipping and trade sources said the escalating six-week-old dispute by executives and employees of the state oil giant PDVSA had halted Venezuelan oil shipments. Production was also being cut as storage facilities were full to the brim, they added.
However, Energy Minister Alvaro Silva and PDVSA president Gaston Parra insisted oil industry operations were "normal."
The revolt by the dissident PDVSA staff, who oppose management changes made by Chavez, put intense pressure on the president a day ahead of a 24-hour national strike called by opposition labor and business chiefs.
The disruption of oil exports, which account for a third to a half of Venezuelan government revenues, clamps a heavy economic squeeze on the left-wing populist leader, who is battling a wave of opposition to his three-year-old rule.
But Chavez, a pugnacious former paratrooper, has shown no sign of backing down and Sunday used a live television broadcast to sack seven dissident executives in PDVSA (Petroleos de Venezuela), and to forcibly retire 12 more.
The government has promised to guarantee both international oil deliveries and internal gasoline supplies. Most gas stations appeared to be still operating normally Monday.
The president, who has threatened to send in troops if PDVSA, Latin America's biggest oil company, is brought to a complete halt, accused the protesters of "subversion bordering on terrorism" and said security forces were on the alert.
"Chavez's words have thrown more fuel on the fire," one local shipping agent, who asked not to be named, told Reuters.
The abrupt sackings, announced by Chavez on television as he blew a soccer referee's whistle, infuriated the disgruntled state oil company employees, who said they would intensify protests and stoppages.
"Today, tomorrow and the next day, our actions are going to be even more radical," Eddie Ramirez, one of the PDVSA staff sacked Sunday, told reporters in Caracas, surrounded by a crowd of protesting colleagues chanting, "We are not afraid."
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.
The president, who in 1992 tried unsuccessfully to seize power in a botched military coup, defends his self-proclaimed "revolution" as a noble campaign to help the poor. But critics accuse him of trying to introduce a Cuban-style leftist regime in Venezuela.
OIL INDUSTRY IN TURMOIL
Chavez has repeatedly rejected demands that he revoke the appointment of five new PDVSA board members named in late February. The dissidents complain the appointments were based on political loyalty to the president, not on merit.
Local shipping and trade sources said the revolt in PDVSA was severely hitting production, refining and exports although there were conflicting reports of the precise impact.
"Nothing is going out (in shipments)," one private trader told Reuters, saying exports had been halted from the main loading terminals at Puerto La Cruz, El Palito and Paraguana.
Other estimates said shipments had been reduced to around 15 percent to 20 percent of normal levels. "There isn't a complete halt yet, although it looks as though it's headed that way," the Caracas-based shipping agent said.
Venezuela's oil production, which normally runs at 2.6 million barrels per day (BPD), was also being cut back, the sources said. "You can't produce for long if you're not exporting," the trader said.
"Storage facilities are full to the brim," he added.
But PDVSA president Gaston Parra insisted oil output and exports were being maintained. "There will be no stoppage in the country and especially not in PDVSA," Parra said.
"He's lying," the shipping agent said.
PDVSA chief Parra told state television that the 960,000 bpd Amuay Cardon refinery complex, Venezuela's largest and a key supplier of gasoline and heating oil to the United States, was "working normally".
But a PDVSA spokesman from the refinery in the Paraguana Peninsula told Reuters the complex was reducing its throughput to minimum levels and that oil shipments had been halted.
"What are we going to load up? There are no ships and no business," he added.
FEARS OF STREET VIOLENCE
On top of the worsening PDVSA conflict, Venezuela's largest trades union, the Venezuela Workers' Confederation (CTV), has called a 24-hour nationwide strike for Tuesday to protest what it calls the president's inflexible, authoritarian response to opposition criticism and workers' demands.
"He (Chavez) still thinks that he can run the country with threats, repressive measures and bribery," CTV president Carlos Ortega, a political enemy of Chavez, told reporters.
Venezuela's leading private business association, Fedecamaras, is also supporting Tuesday's stoppage, which Chavez has defiantly predicted will be a failure.
The confrontation has raised new fears of street clashes between supporters and foes of Chavez, but Vice-President Diosdado Cabello played down these worries, saying National Guard troops would be on hand to guarantee law and order.
Chavistas: Venezuelan street toughs: Helping "revolution" or crushing dissent?****CARACAS, Venezuela - From her bed in a Caracas military hospital, the wiry, chain-smoking prisoner vowed to continue a hunger strike and risk becoming the first death in Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's "revolution." "Comandante" Lina Ron, who considers herself a modern version of "Tania," a woman who fought alongside Cuban revolutionary Ernesto Che Guevara, says she is a willing martyr for Chavez's cause. She was arrested after leading a violent pro-Chavez counter-protest against demonstrating university students. Thousands follow her lead in Venezuela and they have increasingly quashed dissent, breaking up anti-government protests, intimidating journalists and alarming the president's critics.****
Colombia Paper Reports FARC Rebel Camp in Venezuela--LINK to "12 civilians killed in two bombings blamed on FARC" **** A small explosive device had gone off minutes earlier, attracting people who were in bars and restaurants on a warm weekend night. Then a bomb -- located underneath a car parked on the street -- blew up, shredding bodies and causing damage in a four-block-wide area. Four people were killed in the first explosion and eight died in the second blast. More than 60 people were injured. ****
The strike begins today.