Photo: Reuters

Since the dawn of the catastrophic Quevedo Era in PDVSA, we’ve been hearing the same thing: the oil industry’s paralyzed because managers are terrified of doing anything. The ongoing purge of managers suspected of “corruption” has left the oil industry incapable of doing even normal, routine things because everyone is scared that any signature they put down will land them in jail. An air of menace pervades the halls of La Campiña, and as PDVSA seizes up administratively, oil production falls off a cliff.

Now, in a particularly kafkaesque twist, Quevedo is throwing people in jail for refusing to sign paperwork too!

The case of the two Chevron managers now facing treason charges has to stand as one of the most aberrant and self-destructive episodes of today’s Venezuela. The specifics are not clear, but Reuters’ Marianna Párraga and Alex Ulmer report that what brought on the charges isn’t what they did, but what they didn’t.

The two Chevron employees were jailed when they refused to sign a supply contract written by PDVSA executives under an emergency decree, which skips the competitive bidding process, according to a half dozen sources close to the case. Such decrees have been cited by Venezuela prosecutors as a means of extracting bribes in some recent PDVSA corruption cases.

Read between the lines, man: Chevron’s people are facing decades in jail for refusing to go along with corruption. As Stolk tweeted, in Venezuela not stealing is treason.

There’s a heavy dose of Undercook/Overcook, Parks & Rec black comedy here (sign the procurement deal, jail; don’t sign the procurement deal, jail right away), but the broader strategic aspect is, not to put too fine a point on it, simply baffling. PDVSA needs Chevron. I mean, PDVSA NEEEEEEEEEEDS Chevron. With the bottom falling out of its own production capacity, PDVSA has never had a weaker negotiating hand vis-à-vis its foreign partners.

It’s never a good time to bite the hand that feeds you, but this is a step beyond. This is chomping on the hand that feeds you when you’re emaciated, delirious from acute malnutrition, on the verge of quite literal starvation, then severing the hand, dousing it in gasoline, setting it on fire and shitting on the ashes. We’re in a space beyond corruption here, beyond ideological turpitude and moral abasement beyond garden variety self-harm into the realm of spiteful, sadomasochistic national self-immolation.

En serio.

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