Venezuela receives gas, food shipments

CARACAS, Venezuela – Venezuela received its first shipment of 525,000 barrels of oil from Brazil to help relieve the shortages because of a strike against President Hugo Chavez and the Venezuelan Constitution. Brazil’s new president, Luis Inacio “Lula” da Silva, has agreed to send experienced Brazilian technical experts to get production up at the State-owned oil corporation, Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA). Chavez had joined the leaders of 120 countries for Lula’s inauguration, Jan. 1.

The 27-day strike – led by Venezuela’s business chamber – began Dec. 2 to demand Chavez call a nonbinding referendum on his rule. Chavez, elected in 2,000, repeatedly has said the only constitutional means of removing him from office is a binding plebiscite halfway through his term, or August.

Venezuela, the world’s fifth-largest oil exporter, is seeking food and fuel abroad. Besides Brazil, Trinidad’s state-owned oil company shipped some 300,000 barrels of gasoline on New Year’s Day to Venezuela. The Dominican Republic sent rice and Colombia sent 180,000 tons of food.

Negotiations between the government and the anti-Chavez forces are being mediated by the Secretary General of the Organization of American States, Cesar Gaviria. Talks were suspended until after the holidays and resumed Jan. 2.

Venezuela, a country of 24 million people, is the world’s No. 5 exporter of oil. Venezuela’s opposition-led saboteurs insist that national oil production has been culled to just 190,000 barrels from a full capacity of three million barrels. The government says pre-December levels will be reached again by mid-February.

“For those who have tried to sink the country, we must remind them they won’t be able to do it,” Chavez said Jan. 4 as he decorated workers and merchant marines who refused to join the strike.