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Venezuela cracks down on oil industry critics, arrests union leaders

24 November 2020

Venezuela has continued its crackdown on oil industry critics and whistleblowers in an attempt to block information leaks about state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), the country’s deteriorating oil facilities, and unsafe working conditions.

President Maduro - Image: Shutterstock
President Maduro - Image: Shutterstock

On November 19, Venezuelan authorities arrested Eudis Girot, an oil workers’ union leader, and other officials who have been criticising the management of PDVSA for many months. Girot is Executive Director of the National Federation of Oil Unions (FUTPV) and has extensively tweeted about the PDVSA’s numerous failed attempts to restart production at the 940,000 barrel-per-day Paraguaná Refinery Complex. Girot was also among the whistleblowers that exposed the state of the PDVSA’s floating oil storage vessel Nabarima that held 1.3 million barrels of crude oil and began listing to one side in October.

Reuters news agency reports that Girot is being held by the Directorate of Military Counterintelligence (DGCIM) on charges of terrorism and divulging confidential information. Reuters says that neither Venezuela’s information ministry nor PDVSA have commented on the arrests.

Another union leader, Guillermo Zarraga, was also arrested in November on terrorism charges after President Nicolas Maduro claimed that an attack from a drone on the 645,000 barrel-per-day Amuay refinery caused an explosion. Maduro offered no evidence for this claim. Argus Media reports that it was told by workers at the Amuay refinery that explosion was caused by water leaking into the unit, causing a significant steam explosion.

Reuters also reports that earlier in the year a worker at PDVSA’s maritime subsidiary was arrested for criticising Maduro in a meeting. Two PDVSA executives were also arrested for allegedly providing information to the United States.

According to Argus, data on Venezuelan crude production and refinery operations regularly leaks out through a variety of sources from inside PDVSA and the country’s wider oil and gas industry. Some PDVSA workers leak information in an effort to bring attention to the safety risks and poor conditions across oil facilities in Venezuela.

Relatives of those arrested in recent weeks and months have said that men wearing balaclavas forcibly remove individuals without showing arrest warrants and are then taken to unknown locations.

PDVSA’s crude oil production and fuel refining has plummeted in recent years due to underinvestment and mismanagement, and more recently due to US sanctions on PDVSA designed to force out socialist President Maduro.

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