Brazil to swap gasoline to fuel-starved Venezuela

By an OGJ correspondent

RIO DE JANEIRO, Dec. 26 -- In a swap for future crude oil deliveries from Venezuela, Petroleos Brasileiro SA (Petrobras) has agreed to provide 520,000 l of gasoline to Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA) now to relieve the fuel shortage caused by a general strike that has virtually shut down Venezuela's national oil company.

That shipment should arrive in Venezuela "by the end of this week," Petrobras Pres. Francisco Gros told OGJ Online.

With an estimated 90% of PDVSA employees participating in the 25-day-old strike aimed at ousting Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, exports of Venezuelan crude and petroleum products have come to a virtual halt, with 40 tankers sitting idle outside that country's ports. How Venezuelan authorities plan to offload a tanker of Brazilian gasoline under those conditions was not immediately clear.

Acting on a personal appeal from Chávez, Brazil's President Fernando Henrique Cardoso requested Monday that Petrobras provide the gasoline to Venezuela. Brazil is a net importer of crude.

Prior to the strike, Venezuela, a founding member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, was the fifth largest exporter of crude in the world. However, its current lack of fuel as a result of the strike is severely affecting Venezuela's economy, and curtailment of crude exports is pushing up international prices.

President Cardoso noted that, although the charter of the Organization of Ameican States calls for members to cut off trade relations with countries that have nonelected governments, Chávez was legally elected to office.

Marco Aurélio Garcia, international representative of Brazil's President-elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, recently returned from a 4-day visit to Venezuela where he reportedly promised Chávez that Lula would send two tankers: one loaded with gasoline and the other empty. Chávez also asked for technicians to unload crude in neighboring countries.

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