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 Friday, 27 December, 2002, 00:48 GMT
Venezuela begins importing oil
Venezuelan soldiers patrol a Caracas petrol station as customers queue
Queuing for petrol in oil-rich Venezuela
Venezuela has begun importing oil as an opposition-led strike to force the resignation of President Hugo Chavez leads to further oil and food shortages.

We oil workers will remain untiring in our struggle until he [President Chavez] resigns or accepts calling elections

Juan Fernandez
striking oil executive
The announcement from the world's fifth largest oil exporter came as striking executives of Venezuela's state oil firm, PDVSA, voted to continue the strike which began on 2 December.

Several opposition rallies were taking place on Thursday as mediators scheduled more talks to end the crisis.

Thousands of protesters demonstrated in the streets of Caracas and at the PDVSA headquarters.

'Unfriendly'

Brazil's state oil firm, Petrobras, is shipping 520,000 barrels of oil to Venezuela as the government seeks overseas help to cope with domestic fuel shortages.
Chavez supporters march through Caracas
The political conflict overshadowed Christmas

The ship carrying the fuel will arrive by the weekend, Brazilian officials said.

Venezuela is also to begin an oil-for-food programme with the Dominican Republic, the agriculture minister announced, with a rice shipment due to arrive later on Thursday on board a Venezuelan navy vessel.

Talks with Colombia aimed at importing milk and meat are also going on.

The opposition condemned the Brazilian assistance as unfriendly, as oil executives vowed to continue the shutdown.

"We oil workers will remain untiring in our struggle until he [President Chavez] resigns or accepts calling elections," one of the striking PDVSA managers said.

"We will continue until what we are demanding comes true," Juan Fernandez said.

"This is a fight of a people who are demanding liberty!" said Timoteo Zambrano, an opposition negotiator at talks sponsored by the Organisation of American States.

"The international community cannot ask for the impossible" - call off the strike and resume oil exports, Mr Zambrano said.

Oil provides about 70% of Venezuela's export revenues.

The government is only able to maintain exports at between 5% and 10% of the usual 2.7 million barrels per day.

Mediation

Mr Zambrano said the opposition had three proposals at talks sponsored by the OAS - which began on Thursday afternoon:

  • Mr Chavez should quit
  • Mr Chavez should call a referendum on his whether he should continue in office in early 2003
  • Mr Chavez should guarantee the jobs of striking PDVSA workers who have been sacked.

OAS chief Cesar Gaviria, who has put forward a 24-point plan, has indicated that there has so far been no real progress but both sides are, he believes, still willing to examine the proposals.

The opposition, which includes political parties, unions and business leaders, accuse President Chavez of economic mismanagement and authoritarian rule.

They want him to step down and elections to be brought forward.

The international community cannot ask for the impossible

Timoteo Zambrano
opposition negotiator
But Mr Chavez, who was elected in 1998 and survived a coup attempt in April, insists he will stay on until a referendum on his rule next August - halfway through his current term.

Long queues have become a daily sight at petrol stations, as motorists wait for hours to get rationed fuel.

The United States is reducing its representation in Caracas as a result of the strike, ambassador Charles Shapiro announced on Thursday.

"We have closed the trade and commerce office in the embassy and we are extremely concerned," Mr Shapiro said.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Adam Easton reports from Caracas
"They voted to continue their strike until Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez resigns"

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See also:

23 Dec 02 | Business
21 Dec 02 | Americas
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