Ivan Hernandez is the director of the Paraguana
Refinery. In April 2003, FRONTLINE/World reporter Juan
Forero interviewed Hernandez in his office at the refinery, which
is in the town of Punto Fijo in northwestern Venezuela.
Ivan Hernadez, director of Paraguana Refinery.
What motivated you to come back to work?
First of all, the safety of the installations. Second, the
love for this refinery and its workers that you acquire only
during a lifetime of work.
Are you Chavista [supporter of Hugo Chavez]?
I think Chavez is leading a process that is compatible with
my convictions. I am not Chavista, but my convictions are very
humanistic. That social aspect of the new constitution will
serve to create a better life for all Venezuelans. I am with
the constitution, I am with the process.
How did you feel about the workers who walked out?
Many workers stayed inside the refineries. And many people
who walked out came back. But as for those who left, I think
they were confused, they were manipulated. They lost that loyalty
and sense of belonging to work and family.
Is there a possibility for some of those who went on strike
to come back to PDVSA?
Impossible. They must not return because they gravely damaged
the institution and the country. It's not a matter of Chavez,
it's a matter of the institution. They cannot come back, especially
those at the top levels, because the damage is too big; the
social damage to the country is terrible.
You come from a poor family. What are your roots?
My father was a telegraph operator, my mother a housewife.
I went to elementary school in Coro because I couldn't finish
in my hometown, and I had to work to support myself. I know
what being poor is like. Now there must be opportunities for
everybody because that's what democracy and justice are.
It took a short time to restart the refinery. If it had
taken longer, would that have brought down the government?
Maybe. It's difficult to tell. But it would have made the
country very difficult to sustain because here's where we make
80 percent of our gas and other derivatives.
The president has spoken of the fight against the opposition
as a battle. Was reactivating the refinery a battle?
Ivan Hernandez tells his story to FRONTLINE/World reporter Juan Forero.
No, it was not a battle -- it was a war. I say to my colleagues
who walked out: Abandoning the refinery is bad, but trying to
keep us from restarting it is worse. That was the war.
How did they try to stop you from restarting the refinery?
They impeded specialized workers from coming back. They demonstrated
in front of my house. We had 38 cacerolazos [people banging
pots and pans in protest]. It was very violent, aggressive.
The worse these comrades have done is to be aggressive with
their former work colleagues. We were never violent, never aggressive.
Can one run PDVSA well with so few workers?
There were too many workers. The company had grown outrageously
in the last 10 years, especially at the management level in
the cities, Caracas, Maracaibo, Puerto La Cruz. In Operations,
we had maybe just a little bit extra personnel, but in management,
we had 50 percent more than we needed. 600, 700 executives in
Caracas are not justified.
How many workers do you have in total here at the refinery,
people on payroll?
Before the strike, 3,700 people. Now it's 1,800.
How many temps?
Depends on the repair work needed. In December, we had 6,000
people hired temporarily. That goes up and down.
We wanted to ask you about sabotages ...
Two things: a sabotage, quote unquote, which is the sudden
work stoppage -- they left without properly turning off the
equipment, and that created a lot of damage. [At this point,
Hernandez provided a lot of technical details about the damage.]
The other, the one which I criticize the most, is the sabotage
to the computing equipment, to the electronic brain. Here, passwords
were eliminated, anybody could log in. Payroll systems were
a mess. Paying subcontractors and suppliers was difficult.
Do you think you won?
Yes, of course. Totally. There's no way back. They won't be
allowed to come back; the strike cannot be repeated because
it would be a disaster for the country.
Interview With Edgar Paredes
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Translation by Angel Gonzales.