Why PDVSA CEO should be made to resign

Por Venezuela Real - 27 de Septiembre, 2008, 18:23, Categoría: Política Nacional

Gustavo Coronel:
Petroleum World
September  2008

After almost four years in the presidency of PDVSA (Petroleos de Venezuela) Rafael Ramirez has become such a formidable liability to the company and to the nation that he should be made to resign, in order to protect whatever remnants of prestige our national company might still possess.

Although the operational problems of Petroleos de Venezuela started well before 2004, during the presidencies of Hector Ciavaldini, Gaston Parra and Ali Rodriguez, it took the presence of Rafael Ramirez, in his dual role of minister and manager of the oil company to accelerate its decline. All this time Ramirez has been essentially supervising himself and presiding over an intense process of politicization of the company. Working in intimate contact with President Chavez, Ramirez has put all normal corporate procedures aside to create a government financial and operational agency fully dedicated to promote Chavez's political plans both inside and outside the country. All pretenses of professional management have been abandoned and the company is now engaged in active political and social activities that are taking an increasing share of its financial and human resources.

At first these departures from the core activities of the company seemed moderate. The main problems leading to a substantial loss of production, some 600,000 barrels per day, were of a technical and managerial nature. Opportune investments were not made, maintenance became mediocre and the dismissal of thousands of professional managers and technical staff in 2002 and 2003 made a negative impact on operational efficiency. This was tragic but the shortcomings were mostly compensated by the rapid increase in oil prices.

Then, in November 2006, Rafael Ramirez gave a talk to managers of the company that was recorded and made public hours later. In this talk Ramirez told the managers of the company that Petroleos de Venezuela had to work exclusively for Hugo Chavez. He said: "This company is red, all red" and added, "Any employee who does not agree to this should go before he is thrown out violently". The eschatological language used by Ramirez and the obvious violations of the human rights of the employees contained in the speech gave Venezuelans a true measure of the gravity of the situation at Petroleos de Venezuela, one that was reinforced next day. Most Venezuelans expected Ramirez to be dismissed but, instead, President Chavez warmly congratulated him. After the enthusiastic endorsement by President Chavez, Ramirez and his management team lost all sense of shame. In a second stage of operational and ethical deterioration the company started engaging in the political promotion of Chavez and his followers, using company money and assets in these activities in open and defiant violation of our constitution. Planes of PDVSA started to fly regularly to Cuba , or to transport Bolivian President Evo Morales or actor Danny Glover in non-petroleum related trips, while PDVSA money paid for carnival schools of samba in Rio . Petroleos de Venezuela had become just a political extension of the regime.

As President Chavez required more money for his political projects, both domestically and abroad, Petroleos de Venezuela became his private bank. Petroleum income did no longer go to the Venezuelan Central Bank, as the law stipulates. Instead, it went to newly created funds and banks directly controlled by President Chavez. Petroleos de Venezuela's income was put at the service of one man, no longer at the service of the nation. Chavez used some of this money in his programs of handouts to the Venezuelan poor that have tried, unsuccessfully, to replace sound ad systematic health, education and anti-poverty programs. Some of the money has been increasingly used abroad in the buying of political loyalties in the hemisphere. At the same time the company has been put in charge of activities that have nothing to do with its core business: food imports and distribution, housing projects, even training of Olympic athletes. The third stage of deterioration for the company has been characterized by these eccentric activities and by the illegal deviation of the company's financial assets to the Venezuelan executive.

Even at this point Petroleos de Venezuela could have merely been defined as a poorly managed and corrupt petroleum company. As a political tool in the hands of Chavez, in a country lacking institutional checks and balances, it would have been unthinkable to ask for the dismissal of Rafael Ramirez. But now Petroleos de Venezuela has entered into a fourth stage of deterioration, the most dangerous of all for the company and the nation. It is becoming an agent of distribution of illegal money across national boundaries. The revelations of the ongoing Miami trial, in which Antonini and other Venezuelan businessmen have been involved, point to Petroleos de Venezuela and to persons within the company, such as Daniel Uzcategui, Rafael Reiter and Rafael Ramirez himself, as the main actors in an international crime involving Petroleos de Venezuela and the President of Argentina, Cristina Fernandez. Giving money overtly to a presidential candidate of another country is an objective crime. It seems that these money transfers took place not once but many times. As a result, Ramirez is in the sights of the international justice system.

This is why Rafael Ramirez is a strong liability to Venezuela and to Petroleos de Venezuela. He is a liability to all Venezuelans, those who oppose and those who follow Hugo Chavez. I sincerely believe that Hugo Chavez has only weeks, perhaps only days, to get rid of Ramirez and his gang, before the full weight of international law comes down on him, on Petroleos de Venezuela and, perhaps, on Chavez himself. Illegal flows of money across national boundaries are a serious crime, no matter if they represent political contributions or drug money laundering.

de la dirección del
Nuevo Portal Principal


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