Petroecuador Workers End Strike

Union leaders at Ecuador's state oil company Petroecuador have called off a week long strike after they achieved their main objective of forcing the energy ministry to abandon plans to award association contracts to private companies on the company's five main oil fields, a Petroecuador source told BNamericas.

Workers' remaining demands, which included the resignation of energy minister Carlos Arboleda, were not met by the government but are less important than the contract structure for private companies, the source said, adding that union leaders consider the strike a success. Petroecuador's board will now decide on a new type of contract structure to offer private companies, but that will take at least four weeks, the source said. Workers said the association contracts structure would give too much participation to private companies, and rob the state of its richest oil fields.

Meanwhile, gasoline distribution in Quito was back to normal on Tuesday, and crude transport on the SOTE pipeline should be back to normal levels by Friday after being reduced by about 50% last week, the source said. The SOTE has a transport capacity of about 400,000 barrels a day. Administrative workers went back to work Tuesday, but oil workers remained on 'stand-by' until the ministry agrees to stop legal proceedings to remove at least seven union leaders from their positions as a result of the strike, the source said.

President Lucio Gutierrez described the strike organizers as "terrorists and criminals" who will pay for their crimes in the courts, newspaper El Telegrafo reported. "I want to tell Ecuadorians that tolerance will not be confused with weakness, and we will continue with open hearts for all Ecuadorians, but with a firm hand for those who are corrupt, drug dealers, terrorists and those who want to sow chaos and anarchy in our country," Gutierrez said, quoted in El Telegrafo.

Petroecuador declared a force majeure last week on crude exports, but will probably lift the measure once production is back to normal later this week and a new timetable is drawn up, the source said, adding that at least two shipments of a total 700,000 barrels of crude were delayed by the strike.

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