Purge in PDVSA

By Venezuelan Voices
Photo Credit: Image taken from @ MIJPVenezuela

Alfredo Chirinos and Aryenis Torrealba were detained by the DGCIM (General Directorate of Military Counter-Intelligence) on February 28th at their workplace at PDVSA La Campiña,  Caracas, where they held positions as operations managers. The arrests were possibly carried out at the orders of the “Ali Rodriguez Araque” Presidential Commission led by Tarek Al-Aissami, an ad hoc body created recently to enact ‘a transformation of PDVSA’ in the face of the collapse of the state oil company and the fire-sale of its assets and projects. This week, more than 40 PDVSA high ranking employees have been detained and accused of various crimes.

Chirinos and Torrealba stand accused of “delivering strategic information of a confidential nature to the United States government to facilitate the interventionist maneuvers in its aspirations to assault the oil industry”. However, neither the DGCIM nor the Presidential Commission have released anything to substantiate these claims. They are currently being held in a location unknown to their relatives without access to legal assistance. Only on March 4th, several days after their arrest, was Chirinos allowed a brief conversation with his mother, expressing to her their innocence and his certainty that they would be released within a month.

According to accounts of those who know them personally, both Chirinos and Torrealba are long-term, committed Chavista militants, without ill-gotten wealth, who are being retaliated against for denouncing corrupt schemes in PDVSA regarding murky contract tenders and undercounting export volumes to pocket the differences. This makes their cases quite similar to that of Alcedo Mora, who was forcibly disappeared after denouncing acts of corruption in PDVSA over five years ago.

These arrests come in the context of renewed workers’ movement, and repression, in the oil sector, amidst a chaotic attempt by the Maduro government to increase production through privatization of operations and attacks on workers’ conditions, rights and organizations. Hunger wages have been imposed on the dwindling workforce, while the workers’ health insurance scheme has completely collapsed. Collective bargaining rights have been gutted by the infamous Memorandum 2792, with the last CBA expiring last year. 

Jose Bodas, General Secretary of the Oil Workers Unitary Federation (FUTPV) was forcibly retired after threats of dismissal. Bodas, a leading member of the C-CURA union current and the PSL, was a long-standing independent socialist union activist who had taken a leading part in the workers’ control experiences in the oil sector in the 2002 lock-outs.

In Lagunillas, Zulia, Communist Party militants and oil-sector union activists Dolores Herrera and Gustavo Yanez were evicted from their home and saw their domestic possessions confiscated or thrown out by an armed para-police group on February 13th of 2020. Fellow PCV members Marcos Sabariego and Gil Mugica were arrested by the National Guard when leading a workers’ assembly in El Palito oil refinery in Puerto Cabello, Carabobo, on January 28th.

PDVSA has also become trigger-happy in dismissing workers for complaining over hunger wages or workplace safety concerns, going against both CBAs and labor laws.

There is a high likelihood that the purpose of these detentions is to assign scape-goats for the collapse of PDVSA under the rule of General Manuel Quevedo. State ownership and management over the oil industry has been dismembered by egregious corruption, he crippling effect of both the sanctions on oil exports and capital financing from the U.S., and onerous debt repayment, in kind or in territories, to transnational corporations from China, Russia, Spain and the U.S. Faction fights internal to Chavismo resulted in the imprisonment in November of 2017 of former PDVSA head Eulogio del Pino and dozens of high- and mid-level managers under corruption allegations. 

The Maduro regime no longer fears revealing that some of Chavez’s closest collaborators engaged in egregious acts of corruption to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars – rather, it weaponizes the intimate knowledge it has of them, to embarrass the capitalist opposition that also participated in them, and to balance off internal factions

US-based Venezuelan activists from Venezuelan Worker Solidarity issued a statement expressing repudiation of the arrests. This socialist organization understands “these arrests as part of the regime’s plans to silence dissent and contestation in PDVSA regarding its evident bankruptcy and plans to deeply privatize operations and assets, being carried out in a gross anti-terrorist discourse that silences criticism from within the bureaucracy and criminalizes protests from the workers’ rank-and-file”. 

Using accusations of corruption, sabotage and espionage, or claims that the sanctions are the main and only factor responsible for the collapse of PDVSA, the Government attempts to divert attention from the role policies under both Chavez and Maduro had in bankrupting PDVSA and the State through an extremely corrupt generalized subsidy to Venezuelan capitalism, and through massive expenditures indebtment towards expanding oil production that came to nought. Paradoxically, the collapse of the Venezuelan oil economy has tightened the grip that its unsustainable extractivist and rentier structure has on the country’s land and population. 

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