30 percent of Venezuelan oil monopoly's workers lose jobs
Thursday, February 13, 2003
CARACAS, Venezuela -- President Hugo Chavez has fired more than 30 percent of the work force at the state oil monopoly for participating in a 2-month-old general strike that sought to unseat him, a spokesman for the dissident workers said Wednesday.
Chavez has fired 11,917 out of 37,942 employees from Petroleos de Venezuela S.A., said Juan Fernandez, a former state oil company executive who was among those fired.
The firings -- mostly executives and administrative staff -- are part of Chavez's plan to restructure the mammoth corporation, reducing excess bureaucracy and squeezing out dissent.
But some international oil experts warn the abrupt dismissals could hurt government efforts to revive the world's fifth-largest exporting industry, which provides half of public revenue and 70 percent of export earnings for Venezuela.
Chavez has lifted production to almost half of normal levels, but refineries and exports have been slow to recuperate. Motorists in Venezuela are still waiting in hourslong lines for gasoline, though traffic in the capital, Caracas, picked up considerably after the opposition ended the strike in all areas except oil last week.
But in a sign of growing confidence in the safety of Venezuelan ports, U.S. oil giant Exxon Mobil plans to load 525,000 barrels of synthetic crude at the Jose Terminal next week, said Ruben Rodriguez, the port's loading manager.
Foreign shipping agencies have questioned the safety of Venezuelan ports, where many workers have been replaced.
Exxon Mobil's decision comes after giant U.S. refiner Valero announced it was chartering a crude tanker to load 2 million barrels of synthetic crude from Jose by the end of next week.
On Wednesday, the International Energy Agency said Venezuelan exports were about 800,000 barrels a day in the first week of February, compared to 2.5 million normally.
The Paris-based IEA, which coordinates energy policy for the world's wealthiest countries, estimated that Venezuela's production in the first week of February was 1.2 million barrels a day, double the January average, though short of government claims of 2 million. Dissident state oil company executives said output reached 1.4 million barrels a day on Tuesday. Before the strike, it was 3.2 million.
Chavez refuses to rehire the dismissed oil company workers, saying they cannot be trusted not to walkout again. Many participated in an April strike that helped trigger a short-lived coup against Chavez.
The president also vows the strikers will be prosecuted for allegedly sabotaging oil installations and for the economic damage done to Venezuela during the strike. Dissident employees deny the sabotage charges.