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PDVSA oil union leader Ivan Freites
flees to Colombia

Secretary General of the Union of Oil and Gas Workers of the State of Falcón (Stpgf), Iván Freites.

By Argus

Petroleumworld 12 23 2020

Venezuelan oil union leader Ivan Freites has fled to Colombia, in the latest sign of a government crackdown on critics following a legislative election widely seen as a power grab.

Freites, a seasoned union boss and longtime critic of systemic corruption and mismanagement within Venezuelan state-owned oil company PdV (PDVSA), is now in Bogota with his family after slipping across the porous border, joining scores of other Venezuelan exiles and millions of refugees in Colombia.

Freites described mounting threats on his life from Venezuelan intelligence agencies that ultimately drove him to leave.

"I was warned at the start of December by several friends in the government and military whom I cannot name that I would be arrested during the Christmas holidays by the Sebin and DGCIM acting on orders issued by (oil minister) Tareck el Aissami," Freites told Argus. El Aissami's office has not commented.

Freites says he was told that intelligence agents pressured other recently detained oil union officials including Guillermo Zarraga — a retired IT specialist arrested last month who worked at the 940,000 b/d CRP refining complex in Paraguana — to implicate Freites in the October explosion that destroyed a distillation unit at the 635,000 b/d Amuay refinery.

"The government planned to charge me with terrorism and planting a bomb to destroy the Amuay unit," said Freites, who denies any involvement in the refinery incident.

In May 2019, Freites emerged as a high-profile supporter of US-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido, serving as a bridge to PDVSA workers who have suffered years of payment arrears and precarious working conditions. Since declaring an interim presidency in January 2019, Guaido led a movement to try to force President Nicolas Maduro out of power. A series of blunders and erosion of popular support culminated in an opposition boycott of 6 December National Assembly elections that wrested Guaido of his constitutional claim to the interim presidency and effectively shut down the Opec country's last democratically elected institution. A new rubber-stamp assembly will be inaugurated in early January.

Freites was among numerous senior Venezuelan figures who distanced themselves from the Guaido-led campaign to unseat Maduro. Others such as former PDVSA ad hoc chairman Luis Pacheco and former ad hoc attorney general Jose Ignacio Hernandez, both based abroad, resigned from their posts.

Guaido himself remains in Venezuela. But the departure of industry veterans such as Freites is a blow to the opposition's plans for a post-Maduro industry recovery.

Union insights

PDVSA federation of oil workers has long warned about the company's deteriorating infrastructure, manifested by severe shortages of gasoline.

PDVSA repair crews have been trying unsuccessfully for months to restart gasoline production at the 305,000 b/d Cardon refinery, which forms the CRP complex along with the Amuay refinery on the Paraguana peninsula.

The most recent internal refining report seen by Argus show that Cardon's 54,000 b/d naphtha reformer has been out of service for nearly two weeks because of what PdV describes as a feedstock deficit.

Cardon's 86,000 b/d fluid catalytic cracker (FCC) is only producing about 21,000 b/d of gasoline.

Efforts to restart gasoline production at the 140,000 b/d El Palito refinery in Carabobo state were suspended over a week ago after more than 30 failed attempts since May to restart its 61,500 b/d FCC.

El Palito has been out of service almost continuously since 2017. Four oil union officials at El Palito warn of the risk of a catastrophic accident with every failed restart attempt.

A single distillation unit at PDVSA's 190,000 b/d Puerto La Cruz refinery in Anzoategui state has been in recirculation mode since early December, but efforts to repair other units including its 15,000 b/d FCC and 35,000 b/d naphtha reformer have stalled due to a lack of parts.




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