By Arturo Rosales and Les Blough in Venezuela. Axis of Logic
Updates highlighted in bold
A massive explosion at Venezuela's main oil refinery at the Amuay plant in Falcon State occurred at 1:11 a.m. this morning (Saturday, August 25).
The Dead and Injured
According to Vice President Elías Jaua, at least 24 people were killed, 17 of them members of the Venezuelan National Guard who provide security for the refinery and 60 were injured with 5 remaining hospitalized. Many homes in the area were evacuated and med-vac ambulances were used to take the injured to hospitals.
Update: The death toll has increased to 41 people. These included 18 National Guardsmen who were among those protecting the refinery; 17 civilians and six bodies have not yet been identified.
The Material Damage
Two refinery tanks were destroyed with significant damage to the infrastructure and houses in the area and the National Guard base in front of the refinery was completely destroyed. The refinery is one of the biggest in the world, producing 645,000 barrels of crude and 200,000 barrels of gasoline a day. Amuay, on the Paraguana Peninsula, is part of the Paraguana Refinery Complex, which also includes the adjacent Cardon. The entire complex has capacity to produce 956,000 bpd.
Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez said there are sufficient petroleum reserves in the country to continue the normal flow of exports and meet domestic demands even after the destruction that took place early this morning. Ramirez stated that all operations at the plant had stopped but he expected them to resume within two days.
Update: Rafael Ramírez, Venezuela's Energy Minister stated that nine crude-oil-storage tanks had been destroyed.
Cause of the Blasts
Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez reported on state television that a gas leak, which formed a cloud exploded, "igniting at least two storage tanks and other facilities at the refinery."
US Marine entered Venezuela illegally 2 weeks ago: Two weeks ago (August 10) we reported that the Venezuelan government captured a U.S. Marine entering the country from Colombia illegally, with "the look of a mercenary." He told the government that he "was fleeing from someone," but would not answer any questions asked during interrogation. He had stamps in his passport from visits to Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya and attempted to destroy his notebook when he was captured. But his notebook was reconstructed and found to contain "geographical coordinates." The Marine is still in Venezuelan custody and initially, the government reported that he was refusing to explain his reasons for entering the country illegally. President Chávez stated, "This [US] citizen wanted to enter the country illegally, for who knows what reason. He cannot say where he was going, or who was waiting for him." Since then, the government has not issued any additional reports.
At the time of the US Marine's arrest, President Chávez issued an alert to all Venezuelans related to possible sabotage of the presidential elections this year:
"A group of the bourgeoisie is preparing to reject the people's triumph, that's very clear. [They] are going to try to plunge the country into a political crisis and fill the country with violence. I urge everybody to be very alert."
Corporate Media Reporting: The BBC, Guardian, NYT, LAT, WP, Reuters, AP and other imperialist media jumped the gun and immediately blamed the Venezuelan government for this “accident.” They quote ex-employees of PDVSA who are telling them that the explosion is the result of poor maintenance of equipment and sub-standard safety measures by the government. One of them said the explosion is due to the oil minister working on President Chávez' re-election campaign this year instead of taking care of his responsibilities as oil minister. 18,000 of these employees were fired when they sabotaged and shut down PDVSA in 2002-2003. The imperialist media does not mention any of this, calling them "ex employees" or "retired employees" in their propaganda.
The BBC jumped on this story immediately, attributing the explosion to faulty government management before any investigation has been carried out:
"Analysts say refineries in Venezuela, South America's biggest oil producer, have suffered from a long list of problems including power failures and accidents."
The Guardian did the same with:
“Power faults, accidents and planned stoppages for maintenance have hit deliveries from South America's biggest oil exporter.
“Eddie Ramirez, national co-ordinator for Gente del Petróleo, an organisation of ex-employees of PDVSA, said: "These accidents have been happening more and more frequently in the last couple years because of a neglect in safety and maintenance standards.
"Minister Ramirez dedicates his time to doing politics alongside the candidate, Hugo Chávez, instead of maintaining the level of infrastructure this kind of industry requires."
Gente del Petróleo has been attacking the Chávez government ever since the coup of 2002. They are comprised of many of the 18,000 PDVSA employees who were fired by the government after they sabotaged the Venezuelan oil industry, then abandoned their posts shutting down all oil production for 3 months and crippling the economy in 2003. On April 13, 2002, Eddie Ramirez, sought out and quoted by the Guardian for this story, sat with old PDVSA managers and defiantly cried in public while President Chávez was being held hostage, "Not one more barrel of oil for Cuba!”
The New York Times follows suit with:
“Pdvsa has been plagued by accidents and oil spills in recent years, which critics say are the result of poor management...
“José Bodas, an oil union leader, said that the company had failed to invest in maintenance.
“ 'This has as a consequence the increase in accidents and tragic deaths like what we are seeing today,' Mr. Bodas said in a telephone call to Globovision, a television channel associated with the political opposition to President Hugo Chávez.”
Rafael Ramírez, Venezuela's Oil Minister said PDVSA is investigating the cause of the gas leak that led to the explosion.
So far, the government is only reporting the explosion as the ignition of a gas leak but the investigation of the cause is underway. With President Chávez holding a double-digit lead over his hapless political rival, Capriles Radonski, the CIA-backed opposition has no hope of winning in this 2012 presidential election. President Chávez will hold the office for the next 6 years, a disaster for Washington's plans in South America.
The government has not suggested that the Amuay plant was sabotaged yesterday but you can bet it's on their minds. It is not lost on these reporters that prior to the capture of the US Marine, a meeting took place at US embassy in Caracas regarding the impending October 7 political victory of President Chávez. The following comment was leaked from the embassy:
"Don't worry, there's going to be an unforeseen event which will change all this [Chávez’s impending victory as predicted by all main pollsters]."
Since then the opposition also organized a number of protests in key industries. Last week, a few steel workers walked on stage drowning out President Chávez' campaign speech at Sidor, Venezuela's main steel plant in Bolivar State, a Chávez stronghold. They got on stage on the pretext that they wanted to support President Chávez. Venezuela's two basic industries have been targeted by the CIA-backed opposition, steel and oil. These events were preceded by an outbreak of violence in Yare prison one week ago with 24 prisoners killed in rival gang violence as a result of drugs and weapons that were smuggled into the prison.
Consider the history of sabotage in foreign countries by the CIA, their methods currently being used to destabilize and later attack countries in the Middle East and Asia and more specifically:
- the capture of the US Marine illegally sneaking into Venezuela from Colombia with geographical coordinates of the country;
- the infamous April 2002 Washington-backed, failed coup in Venezuela;
- the sabotage of Venezuela's nationalized oil industry in 2002-2003, shutting down all oil production intended to destroy the economy;
- the assassination of Danilo Anderson, chief investigator of the 2002 coup leaders, with bomb planted in his Jeep outside his home in November, 2004;
- a number of assassinations of trade union leaders by Colombian death squads inside Venezuela;
- repeated violations of Venezuelan air space;
- the US 4th fleet reactivated and moved into position off the Venezuelan coast;
- seven new US military bases moved into Colombia in 2009;
- the Honduran coup that overthrew leftist President Zalaya in July, 2009 and the one against Paraguayan President Ferdinand Lugo earlier this year;
- Venezuela's organization of South American states against US imperialism;
- President Chávez' 3rd election victory as president, a fait accompli, only 6 weeks away.
At this vital stage before the Presidential elections the opposition will try to make political capital out of this tragedy – without any evidence that there was negligence – and as usual their unfounded opinions are given creedence and spread afar by the international corporate media. By the same token it could just have easily been sabotage mainly due to the sensitive political timing of the explosion, preceded by the protest by some infiltrated workers in Bolivar state against Chávez himself which was preceded by the deadly Yare prison riot.
Draw your own conclusions but the investigation into the explosion will be key in these circumstances.
Read biographies and additional reports and analyses by Axis of Logic Columnist Arturo Rosales and editor, Les Blough. Both men live in Venezuela.