July 14, 2009 / 11:13 PM / 10 years ago

Venezuela tells oil workers: join socialist groups

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela’s oil workers will be suspected of conspiring against President Hugo Chavez’s socialist revolution if they do not join socialist workplace groups in the OPEC nation, the oil minister said on Tuesday.

Ramirez, who told oil workers to support Chavez ahead of his 2006 reelection, has long headed the president’s drive to bring politics into Venezuela’s main industry.

“By now, there should not be a single counter-revolutionary in the heart of our company, our industry,” Ramirez said at a rally with workers taken on by state-oil company PDVSA after it nationalized dozens of oil service companies earlier this year.

“There cannot be a single PDVSA installation where socialist committees do not exist,” he said. “Whoever is not in a committee will be suspected of conspiring against the revolution.”

Socialist committees are loosely defined political groups often organized by Chavez’s Socialist Party. Some are dedicated to voluntary work.

Chavez fired about 20,000 workers after a crippling shutdown of the oil industry at the end of 2002 aimed at toppling his government. Chavez bounced back from the strike as rising oil prices paid for popular social projects.

Public sector workers in Venezuela often say they are obliged to attend pro-government rallies. Many people are excluded from government jobs if they are included in a document listing thousands of names of those who supported an attempt to cut short Chavez’s first term in a referendum.

Venezuela’s electoral authorities criticized Ramirez for telling oil workers they had to be “red, really red,” ahead of the 2006 election. Red is the color of Chavez’s political party, as well as being associated with socialism globally.

PDVSA is now one of Latin America’s largest companies having grown under Chavez on the back of higher oil prices and through a series of nationalizations of major foreign-owned projects and smaller service companies.

It directs a large chunk of its profits to government social projects and also runs a food production and import business.

Ramirez on Tuesday said only other state companies should be allowed to sell the food PDVSA produces via a large dairy and the import business.

Reporting by Marianna Parraga; Additional reporting by Eyanir Chinea; Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by David Gregorio

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