US has appetite for Venezuela’s oil

Jun 06, 2011 12:00 AM

by Nil Nikandrov

There is a growing impression that Venezuela with its oil riches is the next country on the US hit list.
One would have to be a hopeless idealist to believe that -- after US crusades swept across Asian and African oil-producing countries -- the Venezuelan oil deposits so far remaining beyond the US control would somehow evade Washington’s appetite. According to various estimates, Venezuela’s fuel reserves should last for 100-150 years under the conditions of strenuous exploitation…

The now-permanent US war over oil against Venezuela commenced in December, 2002 when the management of the country’s oil giant PdVSA staged a strike involving a total of around 20,000 personnel. Chavez’s foes expected that a destabilization across the Venezuelan oil sector, lines at gas stations, and problems with gas supply to households would shatter the defiant regime, but its supporters did not give in.
The strike ended with a defeat in February, 2003, and PdVSA was converted into a state-run company. The pro-US fifth column entrenched in PdVSA was exposed and many of its leaders fled from Venezuela. Some 15,000 oil sector employees were fired and the losses resulting from the turmoil topped $ 10 bn.

Rebuilding PdVSA was an uphill task for the Venezuelan administration and the part of the company’s personnel who had resisted the conspirators’ threats and blackmail.
Chavez’s steps aimed at strengthening OPEC, subjecting the oil output to regulation, and maintaining fair prices helped boost the influence exercised globally by the cartel, Russia whose economy is propped up by oil revenues being among the beneficiaries. Chavez’s support also helped Cuba which was widely seen as a country on the brink to make it through an energy crisis.

Grim forecasts for Chavez and his designs like Venezuela’s original brand of socialism, discount supplies to same-orbit countries, and the establishment of the PetroCaribe alliance were churned out by analysis tightly linked to international energy grands but failed to materialize.
The political regime in Venezuela and Chavez’s standing in international politics are largely sustained by the country’s potential in the energy sphere, and Venezuela’s case exemplifies the simple truth that state control over energy resources is in all cases the key to maintaining domestic stability.

It would be naive to accept the explanation that Washington stamped sanctions on Venezuela’s oil sector solely to punish PdVSA for sending a tanker with 20,000 tons of gasoline to Iran. US Deputy Secretary of State James B. Steinberg stressed that companies from other countries faced similar sanctions as a wider warning message against energy engagement with Tehran.
True, so far the sanctions imposed on Venezuela more or less read as a mere act of intimidation: the Venezuelan oil sector is debarred from contracts with US companies, export and import borrowings, and the acquisition of advanced oil extraction and refinement technologies. PdVSA can easily survive all of the above -- it stayed clear of the US administration and finances for ages, and has a serious independent park of technologies.

Chavez responded to pressure from the US Department of State via Twitter: “Sanctions against the Patria of Bolívar? Imposed by the gringo imperialist government? Well then: Bring them on, Mr Obama! Don’t forget that we are the sons of Bolívar!” and projected that PdVSA would not be shut out of the US market.
When news about the sanctions spread on May 24, Venezuelan foreign minister Nicolás Maduro told the media that the country’s government was probing into the potential consequences for the stability of PdVSA and the supply of 1.2m bpd of crude to the US market. Maduro pledged an “adequate response to the imperialist aggression” and said Venezuela would more than ever be committed to fraternal relations with Iran which in no way threatened the world’s peace.

The Venezuelan administration subscribed a number of times to the view that the claims concerning Iran’s ambitions in the sphere of nuclear weapons withstand no criticism. Washington is slandering Tehran as it slandered Baghdad when the invasion of Iraq loomed on the horizon.
The propaganda made media audiences feel that S. Hussein was an immediate peril but no Iraqi WMDs were unearthed eventually.

G. Bush’s administration was the top manufacturer of anti-Chavez stereotypes. It was a staple for a time that he allegedly supported Arab terrorists and ran secret camps hosting them on Margarita Island in Venezuela, where a relatively small Arab community is known to reside.
Back when I toured the Margarita Island more than once, occasionally talking to the amicable Arab vendors, I could not imagine that someday the CIA would count the folks as Hezbollah guerrillas. These days, the myth is given an extensive backing, and every US SouthCom chief reiterates that a terrorist camp on the Margarita Island does exist. Another myth floated by the CIA is that Iran is admitted to cultivate uranium deposits in Venezuela’s Bolivar state and operates secret laboratories in the area.

Recently Germany’s Die Welt came up with yet another curious finding: this time, Iran is supposed to build a missile base on Venezuela’s Paraguana Peninsula to target the US (long ago, the same plan was attributed to Russia, by the way).
Chavez was prompt to react by featuring pictures of wind mills at a televised government meeting and saying that there must have been a problem with a US reconnaissance satellite. Vice president Elias Jaua did contribute a comment in earnest, saying that Washington was looking for a pretext to attack Venezuela.

The hypothesis increasingly seems realistic. The 2012 elections are drawing closer, and polls show Chavez’s rivals stand no chance. At least, Chavez is confronted with no competitors with comparable prospects.
In response to the situation, the US is trying to ignite domestic conflicts in Venezuela patterned on those that recently shook Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, relying on social media, pro-US NGOs, radical youth groups, and Columbian guerrillas from the ostensibly disbanded AUC.

Coordinators of the plot are eyeing potential allies in the ranks of Chavez’s own administration. Scores of ambitious figures have gone through a political divorce with Chavez over years, and all of them are permanently welcomed by the opposition’s Globovision TV channel.
The brain-washing campaign waged by the opposition media reached impressive proportions. Venezuelans are taught to believe that their country is the scene of rampant crime, that drug lords meet with virtually no resistance, and that Chavez patronizes corrupt bureaucrats in a hope to secure their support.

It is also a cliché that Venezuela’s oil is spent recklessly, mostly to keep ALBA and Cuba afloat while the Venezuelan infrastructures are in disrepair, leaving the population to endure electric power and water supply shutdowns along with recurrent food shortages.
The media are heavily criticizing Venezuela’s economic and military cooperation with Russia and China. At the moment the country’s defence capabilities are bled as a result of the sanctions imposed by Washington on Cavim, the key Venezuelan defence corporation. The explanation is that Washington hates to see other players eat away at its share of the arms market.

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