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Venezuela's oil expats found all over

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (left) with Energy minister and president of state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela oil company Rafael Ramirez (right).

TEXT OF STORY

Doug Krizner: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez demands loyalty, especially from workers in the state-owned oil business.
Since taking power, Chavez fired thousands and replaced them with party loyalists. Now, four years later, those ex-employees are turning up all around the world. From the Americas Desk at WLRN, Marketplace's Dan Grech has the story of one such workers who resettled in south Florida.


Dan Grech: Luis Ramirez never planned on leaving Venezuela. He had a 22-year career at the state oil firm, PDVSA. He had three cars, an apartment with a mountain view, a fat pension.

But Ramirez felt President Hugo Chavez was politicizing the oil company. So in late 2002, he joined a national strike against Chavez.

Luis Ramirez: I knew that there might be consequences. But, you know, it was a calculated risk.

One that ended with his being fired. Word came from an unusual source.

Ramirez: It was by newspaper, an ad in the newspaper. My list was sort of 150 people altogether in one list.

All told, at least 18,000 PDVSA employees lost their jobs.

In Chavez's Venezuela, most working professionals have what's known as a Plan Beh, or Plan B. That's where they'll resettle outside the country if staying is no longer an option.

For fired PDVSA executives, Plan B is usually a global oil center, like Houston.

Ramirez: I have friends living in northern Canada, England, Mexico and many other places.

Ramirez chose Weston, a palm-lined suburb near Fort Lauderdale. He had an investment property there. Problem is there are few oil jobs in south Florida.

Ramirez: When we came here, we had to start over and build our way up again.

Ramirez lost his assets, his country club membership, his maid. He sold the Florida investment property and used the money to start a family printing business. He lives with his wife and two kids in a rental home.

Ramirez: I'm . . . I'm positive. I feel I have all the tools I need to get back on my track. There are so many opportunities in this country. It's so open and warm to people to come here and do business, and we really feel optimistic about that.

Ramirez is even looking to get back into the oil business. He just linked up with eight other PDVSA exiles to form a consulting firm.

In Weston, I'm Dan Grech for Marketplace.

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