To survive months of street protests and an economy in tailspin, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is trying to turn state oil company PDVSA into a bastion of support, further degrading an already vulnerable enterprise.and
Political appointees are gaining clout at the expense of veteran oil executives, while employees are under mounting pressure to attend government rallies and vote for the ruling Socialists. The increasing focus on politics over performance is contributing to a rapid deterioration of Venezuela's oil industry, home to the world's largest crude reserves, and to a brain drain at the once world-class company.
Interviews with two dozen current and former employees, foreign oil executives, and contractors point to a PDVSA coming apart at the seams.
"Everything is a disaster and yet we have to clap," said a PDVSA employee, who asked to remain anonymous because she feared retaliation.
Now Venezuela's oil production is on track to end 2017 at a 25-year low, but the leftist government still relies heavily on PDVSA to be its financial motor.and
That leaves management in a precarious balancing act and sources say political factions are increasingly locked in power struggles within the company.
A senior management team named in January that draws heavily on political and military appointees has left PDVSA's president, the Stanford-educated engineer Eulogio Del Pino, largely powerless, according to two high-level sources in PDVSA and the government who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
Meanwhile, the infrastructure of the company is crumbling, rig counts are at historic lows and refineries are working at a fraction of capacity.
Staff at PDVSA's once gleaming headquarters complain that many elevators are out of service, the bathrooms lack toilet paper, and their cars are broken into in the parking lot. Scarce paper and ink are diverted to make political posters.
Prominent new executives include trading division boss Ysmel Serrano, who used to work for current Vice President Tareck El Aissami, and finance vice president Simon Zerpa, a young ally of Maduro's.In short the business of politicians is politics, not business.
The influx of inexperienced executives and middle managers is keenly felt by foreign oil executives, who say they sometimes spend hours waiting for PDVSA representatives and complain that simple decisions are inexplicably delayed.
"Most of the time executives don't answer phone calls or emails. It's surprising how young and unprepared some managers are," said a representative of a foreign firm holding a supply contract with PDVSA.
He said that managerial and operational chaos was worsening, with waiting time to load a tanker stretching to 30-40 days compared to 2-3 days a few years ago.