Insight: pleas to flee, a desperate video: inside Venezuela’s oil industry purges –

Insight: pleas to flee, a desperate video: inside Venezuela’s oil industry purges


CARACAS (Reuters) – Days before the masked agents arrested him, his family and friends pleaded with Eulogio Del Pino to flee, warning that he could be the next one among the executives detained or persecuted, one after another, in a growing Venezuelan industry's shaky oil purge industry.

PHOTO: Minister of Petroleum of Venezuela and President of Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA Eulogio del Pino speaks during a signing ceremony in agreement with representatives of oil companies: Venezuelan Delta Petroleum and ONGC Videsh India, in Caracas, Venezuela November 4, 2016. REUTERS / Marco Bello / Photo Archive

But the former oil minister, arrested by the police before dawn on November 30, was reluctant to believe that he could soon be among the targets of what President Nicolás Maduro has characterized as a cleaning of the whole important sector.

"I told him:" Go! ", Said one of the three people who described the beginning of the former minister's arrest. "But he told me," I have not done anything wrong. "I trust that they will not do anything bad to me."

That confidence, the product of three years in which Del Pino held the top two positions in the Venezuelan Ministry of Petroleum, now seems alarmingly out of place. Maduro is accusing Del Pino and many other former executives in the corruption industry and blaming them for economic problems that now paralyze the Andean nation.

"I'm not going to protect anyone," Maduro said in a speech on November 28, while swearing in a general who replaced Del Pino as oil minister. "If you are corrupt, you have to pay with jail and return what you have stolen."

The repression has led to uncertainty, panic and paranoia throughout the sector, with up to 65 former executives arrested in the past four months. Prosecutors, critics say, have provided scant evidence of the charges.

Corruption has long plagued the oil industry of the OPEC member and much of Maduro's government in general, a leftist administration struggling with an imploded economy, skyrocketing crime and weakened public services.

But critics of Maduro's besieged administration, and many within the oil industry itself, see the purge as nothing more than an effort to eliminate rivals within the sector and consolidate control before the next presidential election. year.

"Maduro wants control of PDVSA and control of its cash flow," said legislator and opposition economist Angel Alvarado, using the initials of state oil company Petróleos de Venezuela SA.

The Ministry of Information of Venezuela did not respond to a request for comments. PDVSA and the Ministry of Petroleum also did not respond to requests for comments.


It is not clear if any of the charges against Del Pino are justified. The prosecutors, without presenting any evidence, accused him of belonging to a "cartel" that operated a corruption scheme of approximately 500 million dollars in the western state of Zulia.

But the Stanford-trained engineer, who ran the ministry until November 26 and PDVSA for three years before, was previously known as loyal to the government, committed to Maduro's vision of "21st-century socialism."

Only after he was expelled from the ministry, said the three people familiar with his arrest. Finally, Del Pino began to believe that the moment had probably arrived. His last days as a free man illustrate how fortunes can change rapidly even for high officials of the Maduro government.

Right after his dismissal, Del Pino told Reuters in a WhatsApp message: "I need a break."

On November 29, three days after his expulsion, an exhausted Del Pino went to Ávila, a green mountain that Torres on Caracas, the capital, where he liked to walk, said one of the people.

Del Pino found a quiet place under a tree and recorded a video on his cell phone. He said he believed he was about to become a "victim" of an "unjustified attack".

Before the next morning sunlight, hooded and armed military intelligence officers broke into his house and arrested him. The images of the arrest showed Del Pino wearing the burgundy soccer jersey of the Venezuelan national team.

Later that day, the video Del Pino recorded appeared on his Twitter account. "I hope that the revolution gives me the right to a legitimate defense," he said, referring to the government in the militant terms adopted by Maduro.

Del Pino did not respond to requests for comments on WhatsApp, where he had recently changed his profile picture of one of them wearing a PDVSA hat to one of his sons.

A man pbades by the corporate logo of state oil company PDVSA at a gas station in Caracas, Venezuela, on December 1, 2017. REUTERS / Marco Bello

After the arrest of Del Pino, he surprised the workers in the headquarters of PDVSA in Caracas, where, in general, he was very well-liked, he watched the television images of the state on the screens of the company's elevators.

Fear has affected employees at both institutions, according to a half-dozen current and former PDVSA experts, as well as foreign oil executives. Managers are afraid to sign routine documents in case they can be used against them.


Maduro promoted Del Pino, born in the Canary Islands and with a Spanish pbadport, from PDVSA's exploration and production division to the best work of the company in 2014.

At that time, foreign oil executives and badysts welcomed the arrival of the great and discreet technocrat. He replaced Rafael Ramírez, a loyal to the once mighty of the late Hugo Chávez, Maduro's predecessor.

Ramírez, who dominated the Venezuelan oil industry for a decade, tried to make PDVSA "more red than red." He urged workers to wear red shirts in support of Chavez's socialist movement and attend pro-government rallies.

Del Pino, on the other hand, relaxed with revolutionary attire and attendance at meetings of militants. He also sought closer relations with foreign partners frustrated by currency controls and the lack of professionalism in PDVSA.

Even so, many executives and oil executives of PDVSA were finally disappointed with the administration of Del Pino. Instead of improvements, he presided over a large drop in production that led Venezuela's oil production to near 30-year lows.

Del Pino finally found his hands tied in a company where government intervention is common. Last January, Maduro replaced many of his top executives with people appointed for political and military reasons.

Whether Del Pino and other arrested executives are finally found guilty or not, many in Venezuela see the opportunism behind the purge in progress, not a concerted effort to end the bribe.

The industry, after all, has been under strict control of the ruling Socialist Party since shortly after Chavez came to power in 1998.

Although the government ridiculed an opposition-led report from Congress last year , finding that some $ 11 billion disappeared in PDVSA in a decade, now recognizes that many voters support anti-corruption positions advocated by their rivals.

"The opposition has been pushing for a fight against corruption, and now Maduro wants to appropriate that," said Alvarado, the opposition lawmaker.

After surviving major protests this year and pushing through a controversial pro-government legislative super body, Maduro feels empowered, government officials said. He seeks to strengthen his position for re-election next year.

He is also expected to continue looking for ways to attack perceived threats to his political power. Some in Venezuela see the arrest of Del Pino as a way to reach an old rival: Ramírez, the former head of PDVSA.

Many in the government believe that Ramírez, until recently sent from Venezuela to the United Nations, has presidential ambitions.

Although Ramírez has not been mentioned by prosecutors, senior government officials increasingly refer to his time in PDVSA as a period in which "mafias" were formed and executives such as Del Pino grew in advance.

This week, after Ramírez criticized the president in recent opinion articles online, Maduro fired him and summoned him back to Caracas, according to people familiar with the confrontation.

On Friday night, police arrested Diego Salazar, a relative of Ramírez, in what prosecuturos said was another investigation into corruption.

Ramirez did not respond to a request for information on Friday.

Additional reporting by Marianna Parraga in Houston. Written by Alexandra Ulmer. Edition of Andrew Cawthorne and Paulo Prada.

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
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