Skip to comments.Venezuela Strike Sparks Panic Purchasing
Posted on 12/09/2002 5:23:28 AM PST by RCW2001
Venezuela Troops Take Over Gas Delivery, Open Stations As Strike Sparks Panic Buying
The Associated Press
|CARACAS, Venezuela Dec. 9 A general strike aimed at ousting leftist President Hugo Chavez sparked panic buying across Venezuela as it entered its second week Monday, pushing the national guard to commandeer delivery trucks and force gas stations to open.
The indefinite strike has crippled the oil industry of the world's fifth-largest producer as wells, refineries, tanker ships, delivery centers and gas stations have stopped operating in a gradual shutdown that would take weeks to reverse.
Chavez sent soldiers to protect oil wells and refineries from possible sabotage by strikers last week. On Sunday, he sent national guard troops to open gas stations in the capital and seized the trucks of striking delivery companies.
"They are failing to provide a public service, and that's a crime," Chavez said during a five-hour-plus edition of his weekly television and radio program, "Hello President."
"These businessmen are violating the law. ... It is a macabre plan we have to attack."
Lines of cars stretched for blocks in Caracas as panic-buying at gas stations began. Troops stood by the pumps at some stations.
"I went to seven gas stations and they were all closed," Johnny Mota, 26, said from his 1979 Ford Fairlane, one of 35 cars waiting at a Texaco station in eastern Caracas.
An attendant wandered by with a sign reading, "No unleaded gasoline."
Outside Caracas, the national guard seized at least three gasoline distribution centers that had closed in the strike. The government hired civilians to drive tanker trucks commandeered from their private owners to gas stations.
The Energy Ministry said the private property would be returned to its owners "as soon as activities are normalized."
Horacio Medina, a leader of the striking oil workers, said more than 30 percent of gas stations in Venezuela's major cities had run out of fuel.
"There's no gas, I'm earning nothing and the workers lose too, because they make most of their money from tips," said Efrain Salazar, whose station in eastern Caracas ran out Sunday morning.
Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez conceded there were problems in parts of the country, but blamed them on striking station owners and truckers and said the situation was improving.
Shoppers emptied store shelves, worried about political unrest and Chavez's threat to declare martial law if needed. Chavez said late Saturday that a state of exception Venezuela's equivalent of martial law was "a possibility, depending on the evolution of the situation."
Talks between the opposition and government suspended when the strike began Dec. 2 resumed Saturday night but appeared to make little progress. The talks were expected to continue Monday.
The opposition initially was seeking a referendum on Chavez's 4-year-old government, but now is demanding his immediate resignation.
The strike has forged a deep divide between supporters of Chavez and those who want him toppled. It has stopped shipments of crude to the United States, which buys more than 10 percent of its imported oil from Venezuela.
It has also sparked violence. Three people were killed and 28 wounded Friday night when gunmen opened fire at an opposition rally. Six suspects in the shooting were brought before a judge Sunday, and police held back incensed opposition supporters outside.
The three victims of the attack were buried Sunday in a green field overlooking a wealthy neighborhood of eastern Caracas. Hundreds came to pay their respects.
Mourners cried and embraced the grieving parents of Keyla Guerra, an 18-year-old high school senior whose coffin was covered in flowers.
"Keyla is a martyr for the freedom of our country, and she is the symbol of our country's brave youth," said family friend Elisabeth Guerrero, 48.
Opposition supporters blamed the attack on pro-Chavez thugs, although an investigation is continuing.
"How many more deaths do we have to sacrifice before (Chavez) quits and lets us live in peace?" dissident air force Col. Antonio Jose Ortega said at the funeral.
Even Chavez's wife, Marisabel de Chavez, called on the president to listen to the demands of his people.
"President, please, in the name of your daughter, in the name of your family, in the name of the country, listen to the people," she said in a television interview, the couple's daughter sitting beside her. The couple is in the process of divorce.
Chavez said he would never step down.
"I swear they won't succeed," he said on his television program. "I swear by God ... that they won't drive me from the presidency."
Chavez sympathizers seized a pro-opposition television station in the city of Maracay, about 60 miles west of Caracas Monday afternoon. About 11 p.m., other demonstrators besieged four of the principal opposition stations in Caracas. Cesar Gaviria, secretary general of the Organization of American States who is in Caracas to broker talks between the two sides, went on television to denounce the actions and called on the Chavez government to call off the demonstators. Enraged Chavez supporters have blamed the privately owned media of inciting the uprising against the government and journalists have been the targets of violence in the past year. ***