Venezuelan Parliament Passes New Oil and Mining Laws in First Discussion

The proposed amendment would reopen Venezuela’s oil servicing sector to private capital, prohibit further expropriations, and mandate the state pay compensation within 180 days. 

By Lucas Koerner
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Venezuela's National Assembly in downtown Caracas. (archive)
Venezuela's National Assembly in downtown Caracas. (archive)

Philadelphia, July 13, 2016 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuela’s opposition-led National Assembly passed in first discussion Tuesday proposed modifications to the South American nation’s oil and mining laws. 

Legislators with the country’s right-wing opposition coalition, the MUD, approved by majority a reform to the Organic Hydrocarbons Services Reserve Law signed into law by President Hugo Chávez in 2009.

The law, which nationalized all activities related to the oil industry and authorized state expropriations of the assets of private servicing firms, has long been resisted by transnational oil firms as well as sections of the nation’s right-wing opposition, who complain that the law has endangered private property and dampened the nation’s oil output.

“In 2009, the state expropriated 140 companies. As of today, the state has not fully paid compensation,” explained the law’s author, Elias Matta.

“From that year on, there are no servicing activities by private firms in Lake Maracaibo, which would help boost the hydrocarbons industry,” the legislator continued, referring to Venezuela’s oil production hub in the western state of Zulia. 

The proposed amendment would open up Venezuela’s oil servicing sector once again to private and mixed firms dominated by private capital as well as prohibit further expropriations carried out by the state.

Additionally, the Venezuelan government of President Nicolas Maduro would be legally obligated to reach an agreement within 180 days for the payment of compensation to private corporations whose assets have been expropriated by the state. 

Venezuela’s socialist legislative bloc has yet to declare itself for or against the legislation, vowing to conduct a through study of the reform.

Venezuela still faces over two dozen pending lawsuits in the World Bank’s International Center for the Adjudication of Investment Disputes (ICSID) over expropriations carried out prior to pulling out of the body in 2012.

Over the last two years, the Bolivarian government has won high-profile cases against Exxon Mobil and the US-based energy shipping firm Tidewater that saw the ICSID throw out the firms’ exorbitant claims for compensation.

Reforms to mining law

The National Assembly also approved Tuesday a reform to the nation’s Mining Law passed by President Hugo Chávez by executive decree in 1999.

The legislation proposes an amendment to article 22 of the existing law, stipulating that all mining concessions granted by the Venezuelan government must be previously authorized by the nation’s parliament, which reserves the right to modify the terms of any agreement.

The law comes on the back of an executive decree signed by President Maduro in February opening up 112 square kilometers of Bolivar state to open pit mining by 150 national and transnational firms.

Last month, the parliament passed a resolution rejecting the decree following an outpouring of protest from social movements and ex-cabinet members over the social and ecological fallout from the megaproject.

Venezuela’s Supreme Court has agreed to hear a lawsuit filed by former government ministers challenging the constitutionality of the decree on the grounds that violates the Constitution’s protections of indigenous and environmental rights.

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