Venezuela’s president Hugo Chavez yesterday seized control of a French-run oil field, strengthening his control of the country’s vast oil wealth, the lifeblood of his ‘Bolivarian Revolution’. Total SA confirmed from its Paris headquarters that the state oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela SA, ‘took control of our operations’ during the weekend after it refused to turn the site over to a state-run joint venture. Mr Chavez has decided to redefine the terms under which foreign companies can operate in Venezuela, which has the largest oil reserves outside of the Middle East. The new terms state that the Venezuelan government must have a 60 per cent share in any venture. Sixteen companies have bowed to the demands by the president, among them BP and Shell, but Exxon Mobile, the world’s largest oil company, sold its interests instead. Total and ENI, of Italy, have refused to sign accords, hence the seizure of Total’s concession. The Venezuelan government has said that both companies owe taxes and face being shut down. Mr Chavez is using his oil windfall to promote a social reform programme, arms purchases and to engage in anti-US diplomacy, selling oil at below market rates to […]

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