Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s administration has arrested the former leaders of the state’s oil ministry and oil company (PDVSA), Nelson Martinez and Eulogio del Pino. Martinez used to head up Citgo, which is the American unit of PDVSA. Over the last few months over 60 other state oil officials have also been arrested, ostensibly for corruption.
However, due to the large-scale corruption of the Venezuelan state since the days of Hugo Chavez, the fact that oil officials have been singled out for arrest seems suspicious. Oil accounts for half of Venezuela’s GDP and nearly all of its exports. Conveniently, the arrests therefore allow the politically embattled Maduro to appoint his own heads of this economically important industry.
Maduro became president of Venezuela in 2013, following the death of then-president Hugo Chavez, a self-described socialist revolutionary. His popularity has been waning, though, so following the election in 2016 of opposition leaders to the National Assembly, the country’s legislature, Maduro had a parallel legislature convened in July 2017, the National Constituent Assembly. This new Assembly was decreed into existence by Maduro and is composed of his supporters. Most foreign governments and international organizations have refused to recognize it legitimacy, except for Russia, Syria, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Cuba, and Bolivia. Due to the competing Assemblies, the country has been in a constitutional crisis.
The constitutional crisis is just the latest in the sad tale of Venezuela’s slow descent over the last two decades as Chavez’s “Bolivarian Revolution” has taken its toll. Now, unable to stop the country’s fall into the abyss, Maduro is attempting to remain in power, despite massive protests against his government and severe economic problems. The arrest and replacement of oil officials with people loyal to him is yet another grasp to remain in control. In fact, the new head of Venezuela’s oil industry is Major General Manuel Quevedo, a man with no experience in the industry, but who comes with excellent credentials as a “Maduro man”.