Hugo Chavez Fires PDVSA Executives

President Hugo Chavez said seven executives who led month-long strikes and protests against government-appointed leadership at the state-owned monopoly were fired by the company's board of directors Saturday. Twelve other PDVSA executives have been sent into early retirement, he said Sunday, and added that any other workers who continue leading protests will be fired.

The Confederation of Venezuelan Workers, the country's biggest workers union, said the government had "committed suicide" by announcing the dismissals. Confederation President Carlos Ortega said the union might extend a one-day nationwide, general strike called for Tuesday. Executives vowed to protest the firings. "We are prepared to respond to these decisions. We will take the necessary measures," said PDVSA director of finance Juan Fernandez, one of the executives who was fired. Also fired were Horacio Medina, Eddy Ramirez, Gonzalo Feijoo, Alfredo Gomez, Carmen Elisa Hernandez and Edgar Quijano.

In his weekly radio broadcast Sunday, Chavez said the government had been more than patient. Chavez accused the protesters of trying to "sabotage" Venezuela's oil industry and vowed that his efforts to reform the company would continue. "We have been soft. That has been our error. They have crossed the line," he said.

Stopping short of calling a full-blown strike, thousands of company workers stayed home, closed gates to facilities, slowed gasoline and oil tanker deliveries, and staged noisy protests Friday. Two out of five main export terminals for crude oil and refined products -- El Palito in central Venezuela and Puerto La Cruz in the east -- shut down because of labor unrest. At least a dozen vessels were waiting at the ports for operations to resume.

Chavez said Sunday that the government had restored production in El Palito and operations had returned to normal in most of the rest of the industry. The protests continued Sunday with a march in Caracas.