Venezuela takes control of oil ports

Mar 17, 2009 01:00 AM

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, using the need for drug interdiction as his reason, has ordered his country's navy to seize seaports in Venezuelan states having major petroleum-exporting installations. Until the takeover, La Guaira, the port closest to Caracas, was the only major port managed by the central government. Already, critics have expressed concerns over the government's ability to maintain operations at them.
"It is a matter of national security," Chavez said in announcing his takeover of the ports of Maracaibo in oil-rich Zulia state and Puerto Cabello in Carabobo state. He also referred to a plan to take control of the seaport in the state of Nueva Esparta.

The decision appears to fulfil long-standing political plans by Chavez as the three areas-Zulia, Carabobo, and Nueva Esparta-are among several that voted against him in last November's national elections. At the time, Chavez led a personal campaign of intimidation, threatening to jail the outgoing governor of Zulia, who wasrunning for mayor of that state's capital, and warning the voters in Carabobo that he would send in tanks if the opposition prevailed there.
The Chavez regime won 17 of the 22 governorships at stake, but the opposition won in four of the five most important races, including Zulia, Carabobo, the Miranda region around the capital city, and Caracas itself.

The victories, which also included Nueva Esparta and Tachira, adjacent to the border with Colombia, gave the opposition an institutional power base that Chavez felt he had to curb. A sign of that emerged in February when a strike by 3,000 oil workers in the state of Zulia saw closure of four docks in the Lake Maracaibo area. The strike erupted when a group of companies in the area refused to pay the workers' salaries.
In a statement, Petroleos de Venezuela (PdVSA) accused the group of companies contracted to provide transportation services in the area of failing to fulfil their obligations and stated that docks on the eastern coast of the lake were operating normally again after PdVSA agreed to pay the workers.

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