Court Orders Halt to Venezuela Oil Strike

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at
Thu Dec 19 15:03:02 MST 2002

Date: Thu, 19 Dec 2002 13:05:41 -0800
Subject: [VSG List] Court Orders Halt to Venezuela Oil Strike
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Court Orders Halt to Venezuela Oil Strike
1 hour, 29 minutes ago

By ANDREW SELSKY, Associated Press Writer

CARACAS, Venezuela - Venezuela's Supreme Court ordered a temporary
halt to an oil industry strike while it considers the legality of the
work stoppage, which entered its 18th day Thursday.

A general strike by organized labor and business to oust President
Hugo Chavez has stopped oil exports from Venezuela - a key supplier
to the United States - and sent global prices above $30 a barrel.

The Supreme Court said it was considering a motion filed by an
executive with the state-owned oil monopoly asking the justices to
declare the strike illegal. The court said it will hear arguments on
the motion within four days. In the meantime, it ordered striking oil
employees and executives to resume work.

Felix Rodriguez, director of production at Petroleos de Venezuela SA,
filed the motion Tuesday, arguing that the work stoppage - which has
drastically cut oil exports from the world's fifth-largest oil
producer - threatened national security.

There was no immediate reaction from dissident executives at the oil
company, which employs 40,000 people. But a spokesman for striking
workers, Alfredo Gomez, told Dow Jones Newswires they will ignore the
court order.

"It's not safe for us to return to work and the constitution allows
us to protest," Gomez said. Leaders of the general strike have cited
a clause in Venezuela's constitution allowing citizens not to
recognize a government they consider undemocratic.

Oil production was down to 370,000 barrels per day - compared to 3
million barrels before the strike. Some oil executives fired by
Chavez claim production is just 200,000 barrels per day.

Venezuelan and foreign tankers are idle, refineries are closed or
operating at minimum levels and crews and dock workers are refusing
to handle oil and non-oil cargos.

The government is still trying to unload the tanker Pilin Leon -
named after a former Miss World (news - web sites) - which anchored
off the western city of Maracaibo in protest. The ship carries
280,000 barrels of gasoline, roughly a day's supply for the nation.

Chavez, who vows to stay in office, has branded striking oil workers
as traitors sabotaging Venezuela's oil-based economy and issued a
decree allowing the temporary seizure of private vehicles to ensure
deliveries of food and gas.

"We must always be alert, ready to defend our revolution," Chavez
told thousands of supporters late Wednesday at a Caracas arena. He
said the strikers "have aligned themselves with treason."

Chavez, who commandeered some private truck fleets on Dec. 8 to
deliver gas, expanded on that order with a decree allowing civilian
and military officials to temporarily seize any vehicle that delivers
gas, oil or food - including trucks, boats and aircraft - to end
strike-caused shortages.

Chavez ordered inspections of businesses to determine if any were
hoarding goods such as milk, rice or medicine. Those doing so could
be fined. His decree, dated Tuesday and published late Wednesday,
cited threats to national security caused by shortages of essential

Carlos Fernandez, president of the Fedecamaras business association,
said the decree "won't be your ticket, Mr. Chavez, to become owner of
our property."

Soldiers guarded gas stations to keep them open, but 70 percent of
gasoline stations in the Caracas area were empty, said Angelina
Martino, president of the Association of Gasoline Retailers.

Hours-long lines formed at service stations.

"I have been at this station for an hour. Of course everyone is
annoyed," said Claudio Cedeno, a 52-year-old truck driver. "I am
annoyed because they (the strikers) are creating unnecessary chaos."

Strike leaders claim they are providing enough basic goods to meet
the population's needs even as they demand that stores, banks and
businesses close and supporters block highways to stop transport.

Venezuela's private hospitals and clinics announced they would
suspend all but emergency services for an hour a day to support the

Opposition leaders called the strike Dec. 2 to demand that Chavez
call a nonbinding referendum on his rule. They then increased their
demand to early elections - Venezuela's constitution allows only a
recall vote halfway into Chavez's six-year term, which is next August.

Chavez, elected in 1998 and re-elected in 2000, insists that the
opposition abide by Venezuela's democratic constitution.

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