Frontline World

VENEZUELA - A Nation On Edge, June 2003

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Synopsis of "A Nation On Edge"

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Dateline Caracas

Players in the Battle for Venezuela's Oil

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Economy, Government, Society and Culture

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




Power at the Pump: Interview With Edgar Paredes

Edgar Paredes

Edgar Paredes, former director of Petróleos de Venezuela's Chemical division

Edgar Paredes is the former director of Petróleos de Venezuela's Chemical division. He is now out of a job. Paredes is considered a top leader among the dissident executives. In April 2003, FRONTLINE/World reporter Juan Forero interviewed Paredes in Caracas.

What is President Hugo Chavez doing to your country?

Chavez is destroying the country. He is subjecting the will of the citizens of this country, trying to impose a totalitarian regime. Really, he is spoiling Venezuela ... similar to what has happened at that time in Cuba, what happened in other countries in this world, which is a totalitarian regime. ... He has fired more than half of the employees of Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) only for the reason that we were not in the line of his political ideas. We are democrats. We believe in the market economy. And Chavez has other ideas about the economy, about the future of petroleum in Venezuela, and we are opposing him right now.

What is the role of the dissident oil executive in a country where the government is in complete control, at the moment, of the state oil company?

The role that we have is exactly the same role that all the Venezuelan citizens have, which is to oppose the regime of President Chavez and try to, as soon as possible, have free elections, in order that Venezuelans can decide what is the future that we want for the country.

Chavez appears to be consolidating his revolution. Is he not much stronger now than he was on December 2, 2002? And isn't the opposition splintered at the moment?

I wouldn't say that. I feel that we can say that Chavez used the opportunity of the nationalist strike to take control of the oil industry. That is a fact. But this strike, on the other hand, was to serve the purpose that the eyes of the world could see more clearly what is really happening in Venezuela. Now it's clear to the United States and all the other countries that Venezuela is no longer a good supplier of crude petroleum and gasoline and the other products.

You, the opposition movement, held a strike that lasted 62 days, and now the economy is in shambles. How much is the opposition movement to blame for the state of the economy?

I would say the strike makes clear what the government had done with (Chavez's) very bad economic policies. The misery of the economy in Venezuela is not a result of the strike, if we see that before the strike more than 20,000 companies had closed their doors, thousands of Venezuelans had lost their jobs. That was all before the strike. For that reason we went to the strike, to protest against a government that was destroying the economy. And that is not, the opposition is not to blame for the state of the economy. It is the result of the bad economic policy of the government.

You say the government is trying to install a totalitarian regime here. What is the evidence of that? People here do not get arrested. Military officials speak out against the government. People call for coups against the government. There aren't any arrests. There aren't any political prisoners, according to various groups outside the country, including human rights groups. There aren't any political killings in this country. Why do you say that this is a totalitarian regime?

FRONTLINE/World reporter Juan Forero interviews Edgar Paredes

FRONTLINE/World reporter Juan Forero interviews Edgar Paredes.
I will answer that question recommending you and other people read the history of other countries. If you go to Hitler's Germany, at that time, at the beginning of the Nazi regime in Germany, Hitler was not killing the Jews at the beginning of the regime. ... If you come to Venezuela right now, you see how Chavez, using a very lying campaign of propaganda, is blaming many sectors in Venezuela society for all the bad things that are happening in Venezuela. After that, he's trying to take control of all the institutions. ... These are the first steps to have really totalitarian powers. We cannot wait until he is killing people.

You say the government is not delivering much oil. But even the dissident oil workers say Venezuela is producing 2.6 million barrels. That still makes Venezuela a major producer of oil. It seems as though even some opposition figures have acknowledged that the government has reactivated the oil company to a certain extent more quickly than had been predicted. But what is happening with the oil company?

If we focus in the figure of production, you would say it's 2.6 million barrels every day that you're producing. But that is just part of the situation. Because if you have a business, the problem is not how much do you produce, the question is how much money you are producing for the business. I can say we are producing 2.6 million barrels of oil. We are refining about half of what we normally refine. But we are not obtaining the money corresponding to that level of production. And there are many reasons. The deactivation of the corporation is not only producing oil, is not only refining oil; it's commercializing that oil; it's producing the oil that the market needs -- and that is not what's happening. They are producing what they can produce, not what the market needs.

Let me ask you a question about the government's claim that the state oil company had a black box, that the government didn't know what was happening to the money, but not enough money was coming into Venezuela. I understand the argument that this is a very modern, efficient company. But one still sees a Venezuela, even before Chavez came in, that had very serious poverty problems. This was not a utopia before. Your thoughts?

You know Petróleos de Venezuela is a company, and we have an owner, and the owner is the Venezuelan nation. And we give all that we obtain for the revenues for oil, we give that to the government. The government is responsible for what is happening with that money. What is important here are two things: First, Petróleos de Venezuela is a company very solidly controlled by the state. All the plants, the investment plans, all the books are heavily controlled by different government offices, and that has always been the case, and we can demonstrate that. But more important, Chavez -- and this is a very big thing, it's a very important thing -- Chavez has obtained, the government of Chavez has obtained from the oil industry double -- double -- the quantity of money that the three previous governments in Venezuela obtained at their times. What happened with that money?

Interview With Ivan Hernandez

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Translation by Angel Gonzales.