Alexandra Ulmer, Deisy Buitrago
CARACAS (Reuters) – Angry Venezuelan oil workers demanding better benefits to counter crushing hyperinflation and food shortages clashed with security officials during a rare protest in the cafeteria of state oil company PDVSA’s headquarters on Friday.
Venezuela is home to the world’s largest crude reserves but its creaking state-led economic model has all but collapsed, sparking four-digit inflation and long lines for everything from milk to medicines.
Many struggling oil workers have kept mum for fear of losing their jobs and health insurance as President Nicolas Maduro’s government takes an increasingly tough line on dissent.
But in a rare display of public anger, dozens of oil workers blocked access to the cafeteria that caters to PDVSA and the adjacent Oil Ministry during lunch hour on Friday to demand the payment of delayed benefits, three sources close to PDVSA told Reuters.
Videos circulating on social media showed workers pushing and shoving with green-uniformed National Guard soldiers trying to keep order.
“Get out!” the employees are heard yelling, as a huge photo of late leader Hugo Chavez towers above the mayhem.
Workers also shouted “Resign!” in an apparent reference to current PDVSA president and oil minister Manuel Quevedo, a major general with no oil experience tapped late last year to replace his predecessor arrested for alleged graft.
The poor work environment comes as Venezuela’s oil production has slipped to a near 30-year low of around 1.6 million barrels per day due to lack of investment, rampant crime in isolated oil fields, and a brain drain.
PDVSA did not respond to a request for comment.