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Page added on August 29, 2012

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Union wants Venezuela’s oil minister to resign

Union wants Venezuela’s oil minister to resign thumbnail

Venezuela’s largest oil union, a traditional bastion of support for President Hugo Chavez, on Tuesday demanded the resignation of the head of the state oil company for a refinery explosion that killed dozens of people.
Jose Bodas, the secretary general of the FUTPV oil union, said Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA) President Rafael Ramirez, the country’s oil minister and Chavez ally, should step down immediately.

“We have been saying for some time now that PDVSA has been neglecting maintenance and investments even though they have had revenue of more than $200 billion in the last two years,” Bodas said in a telephone interview with USA TODAY. “Their accidents keep increasing and increasing.”

He also called for an independent commission to investigate the reasons behind the explosion, which happened Saturday at the Amuay refinery and created a fire that was not put out until Tuesday. At least 41 people were killed and more than 150 people injured, Prosecutor General Luisa Ortega said.

The calamity comes as Chavez, who is battling cancer, is facing a stiff challenge from Henrique Capriles Radonski, former governor of Miranda state, in an Oct. 7 presidential election.

Capriles has criticized the government for taking over the oil industry and packing it with unqualified supporters. He vowed if elected to staff PDVSA with people committed to the oil industry, and not just a political party.

The company said the blast was caused by a gas leak and follows a recent prison riot that claimed 25 lives as well as the collapse of a bridge in the eastern part of the country.

Union leaders and analysts have warned for years that PDVSA has been diverting too much money needed for infrastructure improvement to Chavez’s social programs. Since January, the company has had 19 accidents, including pipeline spills and refinery mishaps.

PDVSA has also been importing more gasoline from abroad even though Venezuela has the world’s largest oil reserves at about 300 billion barrels. Ramirez brushed aside accusations of lax maintenance during remarks on the government’s television station, saying that $4.8 billion had been earmarked this year for maintenance.

Pietro Pitts, an analyst with the Houston-based Energy Analytics Institute, questioned the government’s claims.

“If there was a gas leak, why didn’t they have gas detection devices on hand? Why were so many civilians killed?” he said.

Amuay, located in the western state of Falcon, is the country’s largest oil refinery, supplying about 60% of Venezuela´s gasoline market. Ramirez has repeatedly said production and delivery of gasoline won’t be affected by the blast. Gasoline in the country retails for about 8 cents a gallon. Still, many motorists weren’t taking any chances.

“They also said that the fire was out, and that everything was OK, and then there was another blast,” said Javier Rodriguez, who was topping off his tank at a PDVSA service station. “I don’t trust them at all.”

USA Today

One Comment on "Union wants Venezuela’s oil minister to resign"

  1. BillT on Wed, 29th Aug 2012 1:30 am 

    This could be said of the Us companies also.

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