May 11, 2020 / 7:46 PM / 19 days ago

PDVSA worker arrested after criticism of Venezuela's Maduro, says union leader

CARACAS (Reuters) - A worker at Venezuelan state-oil company Petroleos de Venezuela’s [PDVSA.UL] maritime unit was arrested after criticizing President Nicolas Maduro in a meeting with company leadership, according to a union leader and a person present at the meeting.

Eudis Girot, the executive director of Venezuela’s FUTPV oil workers’ union, said in a statement on Monday that Bartolo Guerra - a tugboat captain with 24 years of experience at PDV Marina, the unit - was arrested on Friday by military counterintelligence officials following the Wednesday exchange.

“We demand his immediate release,” Girot said. “All he did was tell the truth about the inhumane conditions in which they work, and the corruption that engulfs not just PDV Marina, but all of PDVSA.”

Prosecutors have accused Guerra of treason, Girot said.

Neither PDVSA nor Venezuela’s oil or information ministries immediately responded to requests for comment.

Reuters has not been able to verify if Guerra was arrested or his current whereabouts.

At the meeting with PDV Marina’s new chief, Cesar Romero, workers voiced concerns about low salaries, poor working conditions, and worries that PDVSA would sell its stake in the company, in line with a proposed restructuring, said the person present, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

During the meeting, Guerra said he had been working for 40 consecutive days without a day off, and that the company had not provided food or water for employees in a week, said Girot and the person present. He ended by blaming the situation at the company on Maduro and the socialist national government, they said.

Romero assumed the leadership of PDV Marina after its prior president, Oswaldo Vargas, was arrested in March on accusations by the government of fuel smuggling, part of a broader purge at PDVSA.

Opposition politicians have denounced widespread corruption at PDVSA, once the engine of the OPEC nation’s economy. The state-run firm has suffered from acute cash flow issues and an exodus of qualified personnel in recent years as its crude output has plummeted.

Maduro insists his government is committed to combating corruption, and argues that U.S. sanctions on the company - part of Washington’s strategy to oust him from power - are the cause of its more recent struggles.

Reporting by Mircely Guanipa in Maracay, Venezuela; Writing by Luc Cohen; Editing by Rosalba O'Brien

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