Venezuela replaces chief overseeing state-run oil firm's joint ventures

CARACAS, Dec 21 () - Venezuela has replaced the executive overseeing state-run PDVSA's oil-production joint ventures, two people familiar with the matter said on Friday, the latest shakeup as the OPEC nation's crude output collapses.

Rafael Urdaneta, who became vice president of Venezuelan Petroleum Corp (CVP) last year, will be replaced by current oil ministry official Radames Gomez, the people said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

Urdaneta, a former housing official, has led CVP at a time of frequent disputes with foreign partners over payment delays involving oil-for-loan pacts. Venezuela's crude production has fallen to about 1.4 million barrels per day (bpd), near its lowest level in 70 years, worsening a severe economic crisis.

CVP manages PDVSA's majority stakes in oil-production joint ventures with foreign companies including Chevron Corp, China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) and Russia's Rosneft.

Industry sources said Urdaneta, one of the military officials who joined PDVSA along with company President Manuel Quevedo, had rankled some foreign partners, with one describing him as "authoritarian."

Urdaneta in 2017 was named head of state real estate arm Inmobiliaria Nacional when Quevedo was the nation's housing minister. He became CVP chief after former President Orlando Chacin was arrested last year as part of a wide-reaching probe into oil industry corruption.

Critics of President Nicolas Maduro dismissed the charges against civilian leaders as a power grab to assert the socialist party's control over the oil industry. Quevedo, a major general from the National Guard, was named chief of the oil ministry and PDVSA amid the probe.

Quevedo has alienated both the company's upper echelon and rank-and-file, who quit in droves.

Urdaneta's replacement, Gomez, has served in the oil ministry since 1993, before the late President Hugo Chavez rose to power and one year after he graduated university with an international relations degree, according to his LinkedIn profile.

In November, Gomez was named to a post in Venezuela's embassy in Indonesia, according to the government's official gazette. He had worked since 2015 as the oil ministry's director of integration and international affairs.

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