Caracas, February 11, 2008 (venezuelanalysis.com) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez classified the intention of the worlds largest oil company, ExxonMobil, to freeze assets of state-owned Venezuelan oil company Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), as part of a US government backed "economic war" and destabilization campaign against his government and the people of Venezuela. Chavez vowed that the Venezuelan government would not be intimidated.
"They will never rob us again, those bandits of ExxonMobil, they are imperialist bandits, white collar criminals, corruptors of governments, over-throwers of governments, who supported the invasion and bombing of Iraq and continue supporting the genocide in Iraq," he said on his weekly TV show ‘Alo Presidente.'
Last week, Exxon said it won temporary court orders in the UK, the Netherlands, and the Dutch Antilles to freeze PDVSA assets worth up to $12 billion, in a dispute over compensation for a 41.7% stake (worth $750m), in the Cerro Negro exploration project in the Orinoco oil field. The project was nationalized by the Venezuelan government in May last year as part of a drive to gain majority state participation in the country's oil production joint ventures.
Other major oil companies including U.S.-based Chevron Corp., France's Total, Britain's BP PLC, and Norway's Statoil negotiated deals with Venezuela to remain on as minority partners in the Orinoco oil belt projects.
However, ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil, rejected the changed conditions and have been in compensation talks with PDVSA. A spokesperson for ConocoPhillips said they are seeking an "amicable resolution" with the Venezuelan government.
ExxonMobil rejected an initial compensation offer by the Venezuelan government and is seeking arbitration. Another injunction solicited by ExxonMobil in a New York court in January also froze up to $315 million in funds owned by the Venezuelan oil company.
However, all of the court orders are subject to appeal and the Venezuelan government is set to challenge the injunctions in New York and London on the 13th and 22nd of February respectively.
Chavez has warned that if the injunctions are not overturned Venezuela will suspend oil shipments to the United States.
"If you freeze us, if you really manage to freeze us, if you damage us, then we will hurt you. Do you know how? We are not going to send oil to the United States," he said.
Venezuela is the U.S.'s fourth largest oil supplier behind Canada, Saudi Arabia and Mexico. According to the latest figures from the U.S. Energy Department, Venezuela accounted for 12% of U.S. crude oil imports in November, supplying some 1.23 million barrels a day.
"Take note, Mr. Bush, Mr. Danger. If the economic war continues against Venezuela, the price of oil will reach $200. Venezuela will take up the economic war and more than one country is inclined to join us," he added.
Nicaragua's President, Daniel Ortega, backed up Chavez's stance, saying the move by Exxon in conjunction with recent comments attacking Venezuela by US National Intelligence Chief, Mike McConnell showed "a clear imperialist offensive against Venezuela."
"What I want to say to President Chavez and to the Venezuelan people is that they can count on the unconditional solidarity and approval of the Nicaraguan people," Ortega added.
PDVSA, which accounts for some 90% of Venezuela's foreign exchange and half of federal tax revenue, has been central to the Chavez government's policy of wealth distribution through funding immensely popular social programs that provide free education and healthcare to the poor. In 2006 the government invested more than $13 billion in such programs.
Venezuela's predominantly wealthy opposition sectors, hostile to Chavez's nationalization and wealth distribution policies, blamed the government for Exxon's injunctions, arguing the oil project "should never have been nationalized in the first place."
However, Chavez pointed to the two-month oil industry shutdown, orchestrated by the opposition in an attempt to oust him from government in 2002-2003, which caused an estimated $10 billion worth of damage to the economy and said there are some Venezuelans that want to destroy PDVSA.
Similarly, Venezuela's Ambassador in London, Samuel Moncada also criticized the "anti-national conduct of some Venezuelans," specifically the owners and workers of private TV station Globovision, "who demonstrated their open and unconditional support" for the attacks of ExxonMobil against Venezuelan interests.
In contrast, the actions by ExxonMobil have angered many poorer Venezuelans who view the move as an attack on Venezuela's sovereignty and who have organized protests around the country. Oil workers in the Cerro Negro project, (renamed Petromonagas), rejected the judicial actions of ExxonMobil as completely unacceptable. Union leader Luis Carvajal said, "This transnational has exploited our wealth, has exploited our workers and violated our rights - all the workers in the Orinoco oil belt support the nationalization."
Stalin Pérez Borges, national coordinator of the National Union of Workers said the injunctions are "a political-economic attack that is part of a plan against the revolutionary process."
The founding congress of the new United Socialist Party of Venezuela has passed a resolution calling for demonstrations against ExxonMobil this Thursday in Caracas and in Maracaibo, in the oil rich state of Zulia.