Venezuelan oil crisis worsens

| Thursday, December 19, 2002

The strike against President Hugo Chavez's rule has brought Venezuela's critical oil industry to a standstill as opposition demonstrators tried to paralyze the capital Dec. 18 by blocking roads for the second time this week, The Associated Press reported.

U.S. analysts are concerned that continuing trouble, along with the growing threat of war with Iraq, would push the price of crude to $40 per barrel, resulting in much higher prices for gas and diesel fuel.

The strike - which entered its 17th day Wednesday - has reduced Venezuela's oil output from nearly 3 million to 400,000 barrels per day, sending the world price of crude oil above $30 a barrel and depriving the country of $50 million daily in export income. Venezuelan oil normally accounts for 10 percent of U.S. oil imports.

Meanwhile, Chavez has sent soldiers to striking oil facilities to little effect. Venezuela's 13-tanker shipping fleet lay at anchor, its crews having joined the strike. The strike also has caused fuel shortages in Venezuela.

``The overall sentiment among workers is: Strike until he leaves,'' said Gonzalo Feijoo, an adviser for Venezuela's state-owned oil monopoly, Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A., where top management is in open rebellion.

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