PDVSA Employees Increase Protests

Dissident employees of PDVSA decided to intensify their campaign against senior management changes within the company that were ordered by the government last month. A representative of dissenting executives and workers of PDVSA, who are demanding the resignation of five members of the board of directors appointed by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez last month, said work stoppage was not an option. An assembly of nearly 200 company delegates held late Wednesday in a Caracas hotel agreed to expand pickets mounted around PDVSA offices in recent days. "(We agree) to maintain the assembly in permanent session and intensify protests in all areas of the company nationally," a statement issued by the dissidents said on Thursday. Employees are resisting an all-out strike, proposed by some radical workers, because it would wreak havoc on Venezuela's oil-reliant economy and pose problems for buyers. The world's No. 4 oil exporter is a top supplier to the United States.

Critics say the new board members were named for their loyalty to Chavez and lack the experience to run South America's largest oil firm. The dissidents condemned an incident on Wednesday when two firecrackers were thrown at a PDVSA office building in Caracas, injuring no one. Dozens of government supporters staged a noisy protest outside the firm's headquarters earlier in the day.

PDVSA officials separately said they were considering unionizing senior and middle-ranking managers. The government says the new directors are necessary to implement its energy policy. Critics say Chavez wants to drain PDVSA's coffers to fund his leftist programs. Venezuela's oil sales make up over one-third of government revenues.