CARACAS — The President of Venezuela’s troubled state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA), Major General Manuel Salvador Quevedo, organized a catholic mass Friday in an effort to increase oil production, which has dropped severely since embattled head of state Nicolas Maduro took over in 2013.
Oil production reached its post-nationalization peak in 1998, the year Maduro’s mentor and predecessor, Hugo Chavez, first took over, totaling 3.5 million oil barrels a day. Last month, OPEC calculated Venezuela’s production had fallen to 1.3 million bpd.
PDVSA has defaulted in debt, sold refineries and is not meeting some delivery contracts, in spite of the country having the largest oil reserves on the planet.
Presiding over the proceedings, Catholic priest Pablo Urquiaga urged those attending the mass to pray for the recovery of oil production, saying at one point: “The recovery of PDVSA is also the recovery of the whole country.”
At the mass, Quevedo (whose middle name means “Savior” in Spanish) was holding what looks like an outsize “ostia”, the consecrated wafer given to Catholics during communion and which symbolizes the body of Jesus Christ, the Savior.
“This space of peace and spirituality was accompanied by petitions from the working class directed to the recovery in production of the industry, family union, solidarity, camaraderie and the well-being of the country,” said Venezuela’s oil ministry.
In “chavista” parlance, “unión familiar” means not allowing anti-government expressions or even ideas inside the household. Taken to extremes, “union familiar” would entail physically preventing a family member from joining an anti-Maduro protest or even denouncing him or her to the authorities. Some 210 demonstrators and security forces have died in protests since early 2014.
The relationship between “chavismo” and the Catholic church has been as rocky, or more, as the evolution of the oil industry under Chavez and now Maduro. Churches and priests have been attacked, including historic Catholic sites in downtown Caracas dating from the times of the Spanish colonial rule. At least one Catholic priest, Padre Jose Palmar, has been forced into exile after being physically attacked in public.