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Hugo Chávez confesses publicly to the destruction of Petroleos de Venezuela

By Gustavo Coronel

February 13, 2004 - On January 15, Hugo Chávez presented to the National Assembly his version of the State of the Union, which turned out to be a grotesque show, typical of authoritarian and primitive political regimes. Since the opposition did not attend, he spoke only to his followers and to a captive audience of diplomatic representatives, earning their salary the hard way: listening to Chávez. The style of his delivery was, as always, a combination of Fidel Castro and Joselo, the once popular Venezuelan comedian, now retired, who specialized in nonsense. The speech will go down into Venezuelan picaresque because of its incoherence and impudent egocentrism, together with the pompous utterances of Cipriano Castro, the president Chávez most resembles. [Full excerpt of Hugo Chavez' speech can be read here in Spanish].

In one section of the speech, perhaps in the belief that what he was saying would not be published, he confessed to having generated the PDVSA crisis in order to destroy the existing organization. I will quote Chávez's words related to PDVSA, taken from the Web site of the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington D.C. The translation is mine and I guarantee its accuracy. Chávez said:

"2003 . . . gave us the gift of PDVSA. For the first time and I do not exaggerate, Mr. Ambassadors . . . PDVSA is truly Venezuelan. When that false nationalization took place, all that publicity stunt, that was an agreement between elites. Nothing like the one made in Mexico in 1938, by my General Lazaro Cardenas, who truly nationalized the Mexican petroleum industry. . . . Here there was an agreement with the multinationals, which should have paid us for the ecological disaster. Who destroyed the Lake of Maracaibo? The transnational companies. Now we are faced with the cost of saving that mass of water for the Zulianos (people from the State of Zulia). Recently, by the way, we inaugurated the System of Reutilization of Sewage Waters, which will contribute to save the lake from the contamination by the oil industry, the sewage waters which have entered (the lake) during decades."

"The ones who founded PDVSA were the same employees of the transnational companies, (they were) Venezuelans but employed by the transnational, by some, not all. This way a State within the State emerged, the State PDVSA and the State Venezuela and we came to the government [the incoherence is in the original, not in my translation . . . sorry]. We made some efforts but could not climb that hill, therefore (we created) the Plan Colina (Hill) and the grupo Colina, it functioned the Plan Colina because one day I grew tired of asking for reports, for changes, for explanations which reached me distorted, one ended up dizzy after listening to the explanations by the technicians and technocrats. Behind the technocracy what was hiding was anarchy and the anti-nationalism and the traitors and the corruption. And the thievery and the sacking of our people behind the false mask of the nationalization and of PDVSA. Lies! It never was ours."

"Now, this 2003, the attack by the technocracy, ill planned. They attacked the country, our resistance was in several fronts and. we went on a counter offensive. We applied the Zamora strategy [Zamora, a caudillo of the 19th century who led a class inspired war against the oligarchs]. There are those who claim that not one step backwards should be taken but this is wrong. Sometimes we have to do it in order to take 40 steps forward. We took several steps back but now we have taken hundreds of steps forward . . . I like to counter attack. This is good, especially on the flanks. Defense is not good, much less retrograde action like Zamora in Santa Ines. . . . We went on the counter offensive, and today we cannot say that we have everything under control. . . ."

"Crisis in Chinese means danger and opportunity. . . . Sometimes the crisis has to be generated, controlling them, of course. What we did in PDVSA was necessary . . . AND WE GENERATED THE CRISIS. . . . When I took the whistle in 'Alo Presidente' and started to fire people I was provoking the crisis. WHEN I NAMED GASTON PARRA PRESIDENT OF PDVSA AND THE NEW BOARD WE WERE PROVOKING THE CRISIS . . . THEY ANSWERED and the conflict appeared. And this is where we are today. . . ."

These paragraphs of the speech by Hugo Chávez deserve some comments:

* Hugo Chávez lies when he says that PDVSA now belongs to the people. It belongs to the Chávez government. Never before PDVSA has been less Venezuelan, since its product is not being applied in an orderly and honest fashion to the welfare of the Venezuelan people but is used for political purposes. Today PDVSA has no shareholder meetings, no audited financial statements, and no transparency. The Board of PDVSA is being accused of corruption by other government followers and, as a result, the organization is in a state of complete anarchy.

* Chávez shows remarkable ignorance when trying to blame the multinational oil companies for the contamination of Lake Maracaibo. The oil companies produce oil, not sewage water. In his speech Chávez refers all the time to sewage waters. Sewage waters have been produced for many years by the population and by industries located along the shores of the lake, all this mess being dumped in the lake due to the indifference and criminal behavior of municipal, regional and national governments and the ignorance of the population themselves. Still today entire barrios of Maracaibo lack sewer systems and the lake keeps receiving tons of filth. The contamination of Lake Maracaibo is essentially due to the general population and to bad government, not to the oil companies.

* Hugo Chávez insults the thousands of Venezuelan technical and managerial staff of the oil industry when he accuses them of having kept loyal to the multinational companies after the State took over the control of the industry. The men and women of the oil industry managed PDVSA for 25 years and converted her into one of the top three oil companies in the world, providing the nation with billions of dollars that corrupt and inefficient governments like Chávez's have mostly wasted or stolen. This took place while Mr. Chávez was running a small military canteen, the only job he held before being president or using the weapons entrusted to him to defend democracy and the constitution to destroy democracy and violate the constitution. Any one of the men and women who worked for PDVSA and the nation could teach Chávez abundant lessons in dignity.

* Chávez mentions a Plan, Plan Colina, to destroy PDVSA as it was and to convert into an appendix of his government. He complains that the technocrats of PDVSA left him dizzy with their explanations. The oil industry is certainly complex and this is the reason why the managers are trained for years to conduct its business. Many of the technical and financial problems, which are typical of the oil industry, are beyond the mental capacity of a paratrooper. Managers manage and paratroopers jump. I have never jumped and I would not dared to suggest paratroopers how to jump, much less question their integrity as a species. Since he never understood the managers and technicians of PDVSA he readily concluded that they were all traitors. The real traitors are the military rebels of 1992 led by Chávez and they went to prison as traitors.

* Hugo Chávez is confessing publicly that he consciously promoted the crisis in PDVSA and the national crisis, which developed later. He says that, in order to do it, he fired the PDVSA managers over national television. He did it to generate the reaction of the PDVSA managers. Of course the reaction had to come. The managers felt threatened and unjustly dismissed but, more importantly, they could not accept the violation of the rules and norms of their organization. Chávez admits to provoking the crisis. Who is, then,the criminal? He says that he named Gaston Parra and the rest of the PDVSA Board knowing that this would provoke the crisis. He was calculating and ill intentioned. Parra was a sworn enemy of the PDVSA managers and totally ignorant of the oil industry, except for what he had read in Marxist texts. The other members of the Board were mediocre and lacked all credentials to be there. Chávez did what he did on purpose. His slap in the face of PDVSA's managers was calculated to produce the dignified reaction of the managers. And he boasted of this criminal maneuver in front of the ambassadors of foreign nations! A grotesque performance in the tradition of Idi Amin, Mugabe and Bokassa. Not even Castro would dare to make such a confession in public.

The speech contains many other admissions of improper behavior on the part of a Head of State. such as the definition of surplus international reserves, a prelude to the sacking of those reserves by a greedy government. The document as a whole should be carefully preserved so that it can be utilized by the Courts when the moment comes to try Hugo Chávez for irresponsible and criminal behavior. The admission on PDVSA, however, is the worst aspect of this speech by a man who should not have been given the trust of the Venezuelan citizens during the 1998 presidential elections.

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