From the beginning of 2017 Venezuela stopped the export and the supply of their oil to the Curacao Oil Refinery, popularly named Isla. The ever smoking chimneys extinguished their penetrating effect and thousands of people became unemployed or out of work. In the following years, the dwindling supply forced the company to import oil from other countries (US, Russia) just to meet the island demand for gasoline. Curacao (pop. 160.000) is an autonomous island, part of the Dutch Kingdom, about 50 miles north of the Venezuelan coast.
The problems with the Venezuelan Oil Company started when in 2002 the former president Hugo Chavez Frias fired 19.000 workers who were striking against Chavez’ policy, severely damaging PDVSA’s ability to innovate and compete in the global petroleum market. The high degree of injuries under the remaining employees caused many of them to emigrate to other countries like Canada and Colombia to work in the oil industry over there. The production in Venezuela with the biggest oil reserve in the world during this presidency dropped from 4 million to 700.000 barrels per day.
After the death of Chavez in 2013 Nicolas Maduro came to power. He fired the head of PDVSA and gave the military control over the company. Despite having some of the largest proven oil reserves in the world, in June 2018 PDVSA’s actions grew more desperate as they began to import and refine foreign crude oil for the first time in the country’s history so they could meet export demands. Oil production had also slowed to levels not seen since the 1950s due to economic and management difficulties. In August 2017, Donald Trump’s administration imposed economic sanctions against PDVSA.
All that time the Curacao Oil Refinery still has two big problems. The installation is obsolete and needs maintenance. Apart from that everything is heavily polluted. It will cost billions to clean the equipment and the surrounding water and land. The other is a social problem. If the company can’t be sold to or operated by another foreign oil producer, 2.000 people are out on the street. In December 2019 the lease contract with PDVSA ends. The Curacao government is doing all it can do to attract another company. Up until now these efforts were in vain.