PDVSA Executives, Government Officials in Talks

PDVSA executives have opened talks with government officials to try to resolve the disagreement over the state oil firm's management structure. The talks aim to resolve a dispute over PDVSA's management team that fostered six weeks of protests culminating in last week's three-day national strike followed by a 48-hour failed coup attempt against President Hugo Chavez.

Oil operations in Venezuela were thrown into turmoil during the strike and executives and government officers were negotiating a new management structure as they seek to restore full operations.

"(Venezuelan) Vice-President Diosdado Caballo talked with the PDVSA people this morning. We need to agree on a board, and then things can get back to normal. It should be decided this week," said a PDVSA spokesman.

Exports of crude oil and products, which provide a third to half of government revenues and supply 13 percent of U.S. fuel imports, were increasing and most ports were loading more smoothly, sources said. Cargoes were being shipped as many as 10 days behind their original schedule after a heavy export backlog built up during last week's strike, shipping sources said. Many ships were on anchor awaiting instructions to berth, while other vessels were released for other trips after being told to come back later in April, the sources added.

Crude oil production was expected to approach Venezuela's OPEC quota levels of 2.5 million barrels per day (bpd) on Tuesday, PDVSA said. The country's largest refinery, the 960,000 bpd Amuay-Cardon complex was back to normal capacity, PDVSA said. The Puerto la Cruz plant in the east was also fully back, a spokesman said.

Dissenting PDVSA staff had protest the Chavez-appointed members to the board in February based on their loyalty to him and his self-proclaimed "revolution", and that they lacked the experience necessary to run the company. Chavez said he had accepted the resignations of PDVSA President Gaston Parra and the entire board shortly before Thursday's military uprising against him in an effort to end the dispute.

On Monday, Chavez announced some of the contested PDVSA board members could be asked back to their posts, but that new directors would be added. Parra is viewed as a favorite to retake the top position, industry sources said. The Ministry of Energy and Mines discounted rumors that OPEC Secretary-General Ali Rodriguez, formally Venezuela's Energy Minister, would be asked to assume the PDVSA presidency.

PDVSA executives were hopeful that the conciliatory tones Chavez struck when he returned to office on Sunday -- pledging no retaliation for those who moved against him -- would permit a negotiated solution to the management crisis.