Venzuela oil strike-National Guard protects refineries : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Chavez sends National Guard into streets to deter oil strike violence Filed: 03/29/2001


Associated Press Writer

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- National Guard troops guarded oil refineries, government buildings and major highways across Venezuela on Thursday to deter more violence in a two-day-old strike by oil workers.

Adding to the climate of instability were strikes by teachers and steel and electricity workers as well as a standoff at the Central University of Venezuela between radical students demanding the overthrow of university leaders and others defending the institution's autonomy. The radical students are supporters of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Venezuela -- the world's third largest oil exporter and a major U.S. supplier -- says exports won't be affected for seven days during the strike, which it says is illegal. The state oil monopoly, Petroleos de Venezuela SA, provides 40 percent of the government's income, some $6 billion last year.

Oil Minister Alvaro Silva Calderon said the monopoly was functioning "adequately," with managers filling in for strikers. Unions claimed 37,000 of 40,000 workers were striking; the monopoly insisted Thursday that most were on the job.

Black-bereted troops toting submachine guns directed traffic and stood at key intersections of the capital overnight, but they withdrew before the morning rush hour. Troops in camouflage fatigues and a small armored vehicle guarded the Supreme Court; guardsmen patrolled highways and oil refineries in western Venezuela. PDVSA's Caracas headquarters also were sealed off.

A guard spokeswoman said she didn't know how many troops were deployed.

Chavez ordered the deployment late Wednesday after workers clashed with police while trying to stop trucks from leaving two gasoline distribution plants in the western state of Zulia. Union leaders claimed 64 workers were arrested and four injured. The figures couldn't immediately be confirmed.

"Strike! Strike! Strike!" chanted hundreds of defiant workers outside a monopoly building in Zulia on Thursday. Other workers threatened to block shipping in Maracaibo Lake, a major export route.

Venezuela's oil workers earn an average of $484 a month and want a 15 percent pay hike promised to public employees last year by presidential decree. Petroleos de Venezuela says the decree didn't apply to oil workers. It also argues that it can't afford more raises for workers who received 60 percent raises last year.

A four-day strike in October forced PDVSA to fork over benefits that increased the cost of crude by 70 cents a barrel. The average cost of a barrel of Venezuelan crude was $20.97 on March 23. Prices are reported weekly.

Chavez's two-year-old government inherited $21 billion in unpaid state wages and pensions, and he has faced continuous labor unrest. He wants to oust opposition labor leaders in union elections later this year.

-- Martin Thompson (, March 30, 2001

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