Venezuela’s president has fired or arrested nearly all the people running the oil industry. Here’s why.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has fired or arrested nearly all of the people running the company’s massive oil industry and put a general with no experience in oil whatsoever in charge. It’s a dramatic purge that has rattled the industry in the midst of the country’s severe economic crisis, and another sign the country is growing more authoritarian.
The arrests and firings began after Maduro expanded his powers this summer by successfully pushing for the election of a special new law-making body packed with loyalists that replaced the existing opposition-controlled legislative branch of the government. That election was held in defiance of months of street protests against Maduro that left at least 46 people dead and resulted in international sanctions from the US.
In August that new body appointed a new attorney general, Tarek William Saab, who has since led a campaign to fire and arrest dozens of oil officials under the banner of weeding out corruption. The country’s state-owned oil company, PDVSA, has a long-held reputation for shady conduct, and Maduro’s regime has argued that the company needs to root out graft to become more efficient and deliver more revenue for the government.
But analysts say that arrests also serve another purpose: consolidating power for a beleaguered president who has lost the trust of the country’s population as it endures widespread food shortages and teeters on the edge of a debt crisis. Venezuela is currently struggling to service about $120 billion worth of debt as its economy remains locked in a tailspin due to plunging global oil prices.