Chavista Volunteers Repair Venezuelan Oil Complex to Boost Production

The ‘Workers’ Productive Army’ repaired vehicles, soldering irons, air compressors, and water pumps in the world’s second largest refining complex.

By Paul Dobson
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The ’Jose Leonardo Chirino Workers’ Productive Battalion’ celebrates after culminating the restoration and repair work in the massive Paraguana Refining Complex (PDVSA)
The ’Jose Leonardo Chirino Workers’ Productive Battalion’ celebrates after culminating the restoration and repair work in the massive Paraguana Refining Complex (PDVSA)

Merida, September 19, 2018 (venezuelanalysis.com) – More than sixty volunteer workers belonging to the Workers’ Productive Army have carried out a week’s restoration and “stabilisation” work at Venezuela’s largest oil refinery complex as a response to the country’s economic crisis and collapsing oil output.

Part of the work of the Battalion, which was free of charge, was to activate a series of vital machines whose incorporation into the productive process had been stalled by inefficiency or a lack of imported repair parts. Scarcity of repair parts has increased since US-led financial sanctions began obstructing international trade payments for Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA.

Volunteers of the ‘Jose Leonardo Chirino’ Battalion also assisted resident workers of the Paraguana Refining Complex (CRP) in Falcon state in repairing everything from vehicles to compressors, according to a press statement released this Tuesday about the brigade, which was held in late August.

The Battalion was comprised of mostly pro-government tradesmen from a range of other state-run enterprises in Monagas, Bolivar, Aragua, Miranda, and Zulia states. It was organised by the ‘Jesus Rivero’ Bolivarian Workers’ University (UBTJR), the Bolivarian Military University, and the Corporation of Intermediary Industries (CORPIVENSA), which is under tutelage from the Ministry of Basic Industries.

The brigade was the second of its type to be carried out at the world’s second largest refinery complex of CRP.

“It is about changing the relations of productive labour, changing paradigms. We don’t just repair machines but rather consciousnesses,” explained CORPIVENSA President Sergio Requensa to press following the first brigade in June.

The CRP is comprised of the Amuay, Bajo Grande, and Cardon refineries. It belongs to the state-run oil giant PDVSA and has a capacity to refine 940,000 barrels per day.

Venezuela’s oil production has suffered from corruption, international court action, a brain drain, and underinvestment during the current economic recession. Apart from blocking the import of repair parts, US-led financial sanctions have also caused major problems in importing vital additives needed to process crude oil, as well as prohibiting the repatriation of over US $1 billion of annual profits from PDVSA’s US subsidiary, CITGO, which could be used for maintenance.

Recent OPEC data suggests that production has stabilised around 1.5 million barrels per day (bpd), well below the 2.8 million bpd produced in 2014, and down from an average of 1.9 million bpd in 2017.

In recent months, and especially since his re-election in May, President Maduro has led a series of measures to revert this drop, including worker-led roundtables, a wide-reaching anti-corruption probe, and multi-billion dollar credit from Beijing, including a recently announced US $5 billion loan for the oil industry. He hopes to up production to 1.9 million barrels per day by the end of 2018, and double current production levels within a year. Maduro also announced this week that the goal is to reach 1 million bpd to be exported to China as part of recent commercial agreements between the allied nations.

“We are responding to the measures announced by our working-class President Nicolas Maduro,” proclaimed CRP worker Linda Marquez. One of the objectives, she went on to say, is to “strike a blow against the economic and financial blockade which has hit the production of equipment parts and repair pieces.”

Another volunteer, Jose Primera, from the oil industry in Monagas state, highlighted the political results of the operation, explaining that “True unity is built by workers from different sectors in the productive chain of PDVSA and other enterprises.”

Besides repairing machinery, the brigade looked to “identify critical [productive] technological knots,” stated CRP worker and UBTJR member Rafael Rodriguez.

According to the press release, the brigade managed to: provide maintenance to 32 pumps which supply the Amuay and Cardon refineries, 41 workshop machines, and 32 soldering machines; activate an air compressor which had been idle for two years; repair the dredging system which separates water from crude oil, as well as the heat treatment machines; and repair numerous vehicles. They also managed to activate an automatized vertical lathe which had been purchased but never installed, as well as advance the reactivation of the hypochlorite plant by 70 percent.

Whilst some have suggested that the volunteer efforts are indicative of the poor state PDVSA finds itself in, others, such as Requensa and many of the volunteers themselves, highlight the liberating effect of contributing to the nation's productive model out of political rather than economic reasons.

“It has been an interesting activity, working without payment. People have come from Guayana [region], Sucre [state], they sleep on mattresses and offer their support and knowledge, which is very positive and fills one with emotion. It is gratifying from this perspective,” stated Requensa in June.

CORPIVENSA claims to have 1,740 volunteers signed up to its Workers’ Productive Army program across the country, including carpenters, engineers, mechanics, metalworkers, and other technicians. The program looks to “combat an imposed and non-conventional war imposed by North American imperialism.”

According to a June press release, the volunteer battalions have helped restore installations at eleven other state-run enterprises, apart from the operations at CRP, particularly in gas, food, and transport sectors.