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PDVSA: from real oil to true lies*

By Luis A. Pacheco |

03.06.05 | In 1949, before dying of tuberculosis, George Orwell published his anti-utopian novel, “ 1984” , where he described a totalitarian society fuelled by high technology. The story is told through the eyes of Winston Smith, a minor bureaucrat in the Ministry of Truth, whose job is to rewrite history so that it complies with the political objectives of the state and remains in harmony with the ruling party’s slogans:

War is Peace… Freedom is Slavery… Ignorance is Strength

All this comes to mind after watching and listening to the Minister of Energy and Petroleum and President of PDVSA, reading a prepared statement in front of the Commission established by the Venezuelan National Assembly to investigate the role of foreign private companies in the Venezuelan oil industry, better known as “Apertura Petrolera”.

The Minister, escorted by his resident scriptwriter, both of them wearing brand new red ties, and with a demeanour of superiority that until very recently it was attributed only to what they have christened as the “Old PDVSA”, took pleasure in presenting a rewritten version of the Venezuelan oil history, from the time of nationalization until the present day.

It was, however, an old script that the Minister read, although truth be told his recitation was almost flawless; no doubt the minister has blind faith on his scriptwriter. No new information was given, no new interpretations forwarded. No explanation was offered in regard to the present state of the oil industry. The Professor went over very old ground, plagiarized his own writing, and through the voice of the Minister, retold his biased version of the Venezuelan oil saga

One would have hoped that once inside PDVSA, and having experienced the complex subject of managing a corporation, the duo whose responsibility it is to manage Venezuela ’s main industry, would have tempered the dogmatic view that has always accompanied them. Once more we were victims of our naiveté; their real objective continues to be the annihilation of the past as the only way of avoiding the comparisons with their unsuccessful present.

Once more the Minister managed to get away from answering questions on the sorry state of PDVSA and the ministry he heads. He chose instead to mount a merciless attack on the reputation of hundreds of decent Venezuelans. He carelessly accused them of unpatriotic deeds and transformed himself into a self righteous denouncer of alleged wrongdoing by previous administrations. This was done before the indifference of the majority of the deputies present, and to the chorus of partisan applause.

He read more than fifty pages of malicious half truths and innuendo, reaching an unprecedented level of defamation of honest people. He portrayed all those that preceded him at the helm of the oil industry as mercenaries for foreign interests. He never stood up to his own responsibility for the dismantling of the former oil juggernaut, hiding behind a phoney façade of patriotism and replaying the old charade of the struggle against the evil empire and his lackeys.

As the Venezuelan oil industry becomes a shadow of its former self, those responsible for its demise chose to settle in public old scores against absent adversaries (“Old PDVSA”) , and manage to transform their best allies into new adversaries (foreign operating companies).

The Minister not only tried to rewrite recent history by falsifying the accomplishments of his predecessors, but also wasted the opportunity that history put in his hands to start the healing process that it is so badly needed to start walking the long road to recover the Venezuelan oil industry.

It was clear from the prepared libretto, and the wandering answers to some of the questions, that the Venezuelan oil industry has a new strategic paradigm: politics and then… more politics. Gone are the days when Venezuela aspired to the myth of progress in the wake of oil, as the late Jose Ignacio Cabrujas once wrote.

One would like to imagine a healthy debate between those who designed and made a reality, warts and all, the “Apertura Petrolera”, and those who appear only capable of licking their old wounds, real or imaginary. The country will no doubt benefit from such an exchange.

Alas, this is not at all possible; at least not as long as the present political masters continue intent in building a society in which, as in the end of “ 1984” , the interest of the state makes Winston Smith accept the rewriting of his own personal history, including that 2+2=5

*Original title of article: Luis A. Pacheco: 2+2=5

Luis Pacheco, former PDVSA executive director of corporate planning, PDVSA and managing director, Bitor. Petroleumworld not necessarily share these views.

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