Frontline World

VENEZUELA - A Nation On Edge, June 2003

Related Features THE STORY
Synopsis of "A Nation On Edge"

Leanings of Latin American Leaders

Dateline Caracas

Players in the Battle for Venezuela's Oil

Interview With the President's Psychiatrist

Economy, Government, Society and Culture

Anti-Chavez and Pro-Chavez groups, Relations With U.S., Oil, Media




Power at the Pump: Interview With Ivan Hernandez

Ivan Hernandez

Ivan Hernadez, director of Paraguana Refinery.
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.

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.

Ivan Hernandez

Ivan Hernandez tells his story to FRONTLINE/World reporter Juan Forero.
The president has spoken of the fight against the opposition as a battle. Was reactivating the refinery a battle?

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.