CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela will nationalize a fleet of oil rigs belonging to U.S. company Helmerich and Payne, the latest takeover in a push to socialism as President Hugo Chavez struggles with lower oil output and a recession.
A former soldier inspired by Cuba's Fidel Castro, Chavez has made energy nationalization the linchpin in his 'revolution'. He has also taken over assets in telecommunications, power, steel and banking.
The 11 drilling rigs have been idled for months following a dispute over pending payments by the OPEC member's state oil company PDVSA. Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez said on Wednesday the rigs, the Oklahoma-based company's entire Venezuelan fleet, were being nationalized to bring them back into production.
Ramirez said companies that refused to put their rigs into production were part of a plan to weaken Chavez's government,
"There is a group of drill owners that has refused to discuss tariffs and services with PDVSA and have preferred to keep this equipment stored for a year," Ramirez told reporters in the oil producing state of Zulia. "That is the specific case with U.S. multinational Helmerich and Payne."
The company was not immediately available for comment.
Chavez, who faces legislative elections in September, often pushes ahead with radical plans during election campaigns.
The 55-year-old leader is having a hard time in his 11th year in power. Venezuela's economy is the worst performing in Latin America this year, a problem exacerbated by a drop in oil output since 2008, power outages and soaring inflation.