On Saturday, 39 were killed and more were injured in an explosion at Venezuela’s Paraguaná Refinery, one of the largest in the world. This is only the latest in a string of accidents that the state owned oil company, Pétroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), has racked up in past years. The New York Times reports that—once again—faulty state supervision of the facilities is to blame:
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,” he said in a telephone call to Globovision, a television channel associated with the political opposition to President Chávez.
It is clear that the Chávez regime has been squeezing every last penny out of the oil sector, but despite the “Bolivarian” socialist rhetoric promising equal distribution of this wealth, the money hasn’t just been used for social programs, but also to fund Venezuela’s expensive foreign policy, as well as its efforts to cover up the results of poor policy, rampant cronyism, and the general mismanagement of the public sector. When things go wrong, Venezuelan citizens are the ones who pay the price for the state’s poor choices.Three things seem likely at this juncture: first, no one will be able to trust whatever “investigation” the Chavez government undertakes. It will be an obvious whitewash. Second, conditions for oil workers are unlikely to improve. Third, the usual crew of Chavez defenders in the United States, desperate after all these decades of misery and failure to point to some place some where, where authoritarian socialism isn’t a dreary charnel house and economic failure zone, will struggle to convince themselves that things are just fine in Bolivarian Venezuela.