Photo: PDVSA TV

Reuters’s Alexandra Ulmer has a wild and unmissable report with the inside story of former Oil Minister and PDVSA CEO Eulogio del Pino’s downfall, from head of one of the largest oil companies in the world to common jail inmate. The tale is super juicy, though ultimately it’s very sad.

The first juicy bit is that she found out where he shot those bizarre Blair Witch Project-like videos of him speaking in a low voice and sounding exhausted and out or breath: he was hiking on el Ávila!

“On Nov. 29, three days after his ouster, an exhausted Del Pino went to El Ávila, a verdant mountain that towers over Caracas, the capital, where he liked to hike, one person said. Del Pino found a quiet spot under a tree and recorded a video on his cell phone. He said he believed he was about to become a ‘victim’ of an ‘unjustified attack.’”

Then she goes over his tenure at PDVSA and reflects on the fact that, despite his background as a Stanford-trained nerd, Del Pino was never able to fulfil the hopes that his appointment as PDVSA CEO had raised with many of the company’s investors and partners mostly because, by then, the company his predecessor Rafael Ramírez had bequeathed him was an unfixable wreck.

But then, his own shortcomings as a business leader didn’t help:

“Maduro promoted Del Pino, who was born in the Canary Islands and holds a Spanish passport, from PDVSA’s exploration and production division to the company’s top job in 2014.

At the time, foreign oil executives and analysts largely welcomed the arrival of the genial and low-profile technocrat. He replaced Rafael Ramirez, a once-powerful loyalist of the late Hugo Chavez, Maduro’s predecessor.

Ramirez, who dominated Venezuela’s oil industry for a decade, sought to make PDVSA “redder than red.” He urged workers to wear red shirts in support of Chavez’s socialist movement and to attend pro-government rallies.

Del Pino, by contrast, eased up on revolutionary garb and attendance at militant gatherings. He also sought closer relationships with foreign partners frustrated by currency controls and a lack of professionalism at PDVSA.

Still, many PDVSA insiders and oil executives were ultimately disappointed with Del Pino’s management. Instead of improvements, he presided over a major production fall that brought Venezuela’s oil output to near 30-year-lows.

Del Pino ultimately found his hands tied at a company where intervention by the government is common. Last January, Maduro replaced many of his top executives with political and military appointees.”

But the saddest, most ironic part about the whole affair is Del Pino’s surprising naïveté. He was urged by friends and family members to flee and, as a Spanish national, he would have had it easier than many. But he refused to believe they were going after him until it was too late:

“Days before masked agents arrested him, family and friends pleaded with Eulogio Del Pino to flee, warning that he could be next among executives detained or pursued, one after another, in a mounting purge of Venezuela’s faltering oil industry.

But the former oil minister, detained by police before dawn on Nov 30, was reluctant to believe he could soon be among those targeted in what President Nicolas Maduro has characterized as a cleanup of the all-important sector.

‘I told him: ‘Go!’,’ said one of three people who described the lead up to the former minister’s detention. ‘But he told me ‘I haven’t done anything wrong. I trust that they’re not going to do anything bad to me.”

That trust, the product of three years during which Del Pino held the top two jobs in Venezuela’s oil ministry, now appears alarmingly misplaced. Maduro is charging Del Pino and many other former industry executives with corruption and blaming them for economic woes now crippling the Andean nation.

It is not clear whether any of the charges against Del Pino are substantiated. Prosecutors, without presenting any evidence, accused him of belonging to a ‘cartel’ that operated a roughly $500 million corruption scheme in the western state of Zulia.’

We usually complain about the opposition’s naïveté in understanding the basically criminal and amoral character of chavismo. It drives us nut when the beatas fail to grasp that actual guilt makes zero difference, since the ultimate decision of your life and liberty depends on the whim of the kleptocrats who run the country unchecked. But I never imagined that a chavista top dawg like Del Pino could fall into the same trap.”

Did he buy into the propaganda so much that he failed to realize that people like Alfredo Ramos, Araminta González or María Lourdes Afiuni did nothing wrong but were nevertheless imprisoned on trumped-up charges and had their lives destroyed as a result? Or did he believe that because he had a Twitter profile pic with the galáctico he was going to be spared?

Either way, Alexandra’s piece is a must-read.

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