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Chavez Orders Military to Protect Oil Industry - 2002-12-05


Populist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has ordered the military to protect the country's state-owned oil company as a four-day opposition-led strike begins to affect Venezuela's petroleum industry. Mr. Chavez says he also has given orders to board, if necessary, a tanker that has joined the strike and refused to deliver its supplies abroad.

Addressing the nation, President Chavez denounced the opposition-led strike that began Monday, calling it both a failure and an attempt at insurrection.

Mr. Chavez said his government will not tolerate actions aimed at destabilizing the country's vital petroleum industry, or its exports to its customers abroad including the United States.

He went to say he has given orders to the Armed Forces to protect the oil installations of the giant state-owned oil company, known by its Spanish acronym, PDVSA.

"There is no strike in PDVSA," he said. "It has not called a strike, and for this reason, to keep it operating and secure, we have issued orders to the national guard and the army to protect the country's oil installations."

The Venezuelan leader also said he has ordered the seizure of an PDVSA oil tanker that joined the strike Wednesday, and is now in Lake Maracaibo in western Venezuela, refusing to sail and deliver its oil supplies. Mr. Chavez accused the captain of piracy, and warned he will be arrested.

Two other tankers, which are not carrying petroleum also have stopped in the lake, and are refusing to continue sailing in sympathy with the strike. Anti-Chavez executives at PDVSA also have joined the walkout.

The opposition - made up of business, labor, and political parties - called the general strike Monday to pressure Mr. Chavez to agree to an early vote on his rule. The strike has been extended day by day, as Mr. Chavez refuses to bow to their demands.

Strike organizers accuse the populist leader of driving the oil-rich nation to ruin because of what they say are his leftist economic and social policies. They have called for Venezuelans to stage protest actions to show their discontent with the Chavez government.

Mr. Chavez was overwhelmingly elected president in 1998, and again in 2000 under a new constitution, on promises to end corruption and alleviate poverty that affects 80 percent of the population. But since then his popularity has plummeted in opinion polls.

The Venezuelan leader was briefly ousted in April by dissident military officers, but then was restored when loyalist troops and his supporters swept him back into power.

Mr. Chavez has accused the opposition of trying to recreate the events of April, but urged Venezuelans of all social classes to support the constitution and Venezuela's institutionality.