(Corrects fourth paragraph to show La Rosa previously served as commercial manager in Venezuela, not country manager)
By Alexandra Alper and Marianna Parraga
RIO DE JANEIRO/HOUSTON, June 8 (Reuters) - U.S. oil producer Chevron Corp permanently assigned its Brazil country chief to run its Venezuelan operations, three sources said this week, after the months-long detention of two executives escalated tensions between the OPEC-member nation and foreign oil firms.
Javier La Rosa, who had been president of Chevron Brazil since 2016 according to his LinkedIn page, this month was named to replace the company’s Venezuela general manager, Christopher Whatley, said the sources, who spoke on Thursday and Friday.
Chevron did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
La Rosa had headed Venezuelan commercial operations for the company from 2005 to 2008, his LinkedIn page said. He flew to Caracas shortly after Chevron employees were detained to temporarily lead the Venezuela unit, according to two other people familiar with the matter.
None of the sources could speak for attribution because they were not authorized to speak on the matter.
La Rosa’s appointment comes after a tense showdown between foreign oil companies and the government in recent months as Venezuela’s political and economic meltdown deepened.
Venezuelan authorities this week released the two executives jailed since April as part of an ongoing graft probe into the oil sector, which has spooked other foreign companies operating in partnership with state oil company PDVSA.
The arrests, related to the executives’ refusal to sign a supply contract for furnace parts for a PDVSA joint venture, were made public after some oil-service companies pulled back from Venezuela, writing off billions of dollars in assets.
La Rosa is leaving Brazil just as Chevron begins to flex its muscle in Latin America’s largest crude producer. In a consortium with Petrobras and Royal Dutch Shell Plc , Chevron clinched its first block in Brazil’s coveted offshore pre-salt oil play on Thursday.
It was not immediately clear who will run Chevron’s Brazil operations.
Reuters reported in December that Chevron was in talks with oil services firm Schlumberger NV to resume drilling in an offshore field after a 2011 oil spill there cut production.
Chevron, the world’s seventh-largest publicly traded oil producer, with 2017 revenue of $135 billion, operates in Venezuela mostly through minority stakes in five projects. Its earnings from Venezuela dropped 18 percent last year to $329 million, according to regulatory filings. (Reporting by Alexandra Alper in Rio de Janeiro and Marianna Parraga in Houston Editing by Matthew Lewis)