Ecuador Brings in Military Assistance During Oil Strike

In an effort to return oil activity to normal, Ecuadorian President Lucio Gutierrez has called in the army to guard state oil facilities because striking oil workers have cut off the gasoline supply to the national's capital. Four thousand oil workers began a strike on Monday to protest plans for private oil companies to produce oil in state-run oil fields in the Amazon and to demand the removal Energy Minister Carlos Arboleda.

In a television interview this morning the Arboleda said that the president ordered armed forces to oil facilities that were in the hands of the unionist. Television showed police and army in camouflage gear arriving at a fuel dispatch center in Quito but two Petroecuador officials said the officers only stood guard. "They didn't run anything," one official said.

The strike has affected Petroecuador's crude transport, refineries and distribution. But the degree of its impact has yet to be measured since strikers cut off communications between Quito and the Amazon jungle as part of the protest. The country's only pipeline, SOTE, is now working at only fifty percent capacity.

Oil is Ecuador's biggest export and the government's second-biggest source of revenue, after taxes. Petroecuador and private firms produce a combined 400,000 bpd, which is transported via the SOTE to the Pacific coast for refining or export.