Minister: Corruption Threatens PDVSA West Oil Output

Mismanagement and alleged corruption in the western division of Venezuela's state oil firm PDVSA have threatened production, Venezuela's energy and oil minister and PDVSA president Rafael Ramírez told reporters Thursday.

"Various [illegal] business practices and decisions are compromising our operational performance," he said during a break at a special session of the national assembly.

Ramírez recently fired 30 mid and senior level managers at PDVSA's western division, which produces about 60% of the country's oil, most of which is earmarked for exports.

"We detected a group of irregular practices and corrupt deeds that we are punishing first with termination and then we will place such cases before the relevant [authorities]," Ramírez said.

Venezuela's government could lay off more oil workers if other "corrupt deeds" are detected within PDVSA, he said. "If there were more situations like those we have detected, we will keep on taking such measures."

The minister's decision has triggered unrest among oil workers and the national assembly plans to launch an investigation into alleged mismanagement at PDVSA and a separate investigation at PDVSA's US refining arm Citgo.

Workers and management who sided with President Hugo Chávez during the 2002-2003 oil strike are not exempt from the rule of the law, according to Ramírez. "We all took part in defeating the oil sabotage, but that doesn't give us a green light to commit any kind of irregularity," he said.

In late 2002, as part of a national stoppage called by unions, business groups and opposition political parties, PDVSA workers almost totally halted operations in what is now referred to as the "paro petrolero" or oil stoppage, a protest action aimed at ousting Chávez. In the aftermath, Chávez fired 18,000 workers.

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