EL TIGRE, Venezuela — Thousands of workers are fleeing Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, abandoning once-coveted jobs made worthless by the worst inflation in the world. And now the hemorrhaging is threatening the nation’s chances of overcoming its long economic collapse, union leaders, oil executives and workers say.
Desperate oil workers and criminals are also stripping the oil company of vital equipment, vehicles, pumps and copper wiring, carrying off whatever they can to make money. The double drain — of people and hardware — is further crippling a company that has been teetering for years yet remains the country’s most important source of income.
The timing could not be worse for Venezuela’s increasingly authoritarian president, Nicolás Maduro, who was re-elected last month in a vote that has been widely condemned by leaders across the hemisphere. Prominent opposition politicians were either barred from competing in the election, imprisoned or in exile.
But while Mr. Maduro has firm control over the country, Venezuela is on its knees economically, buckled by hyperinflation and a history of mismanagement. Widespread hunger, political strife, devastating shortages of medicine and an exodus of well over a million people in recent years have turned this country, once the economic envy of many of its neighbors, into a crisis that is spilling over international borders.
If Mr. Maduro is going to find a way out of the mess, the key will be oil: virtually the only source of hard currency for a nation with the world’s largest estimated petroleum reserves.
But each month Venezuela produces less of it.
Offices at the state oil company are emptying out, crews in the field are at half strength, pickup trucks are stolen and vital materials vanish. All of this is adding to the severe problems at the company that were already acute because of corruption, poor maintenance, crippling debts, the loss of professionals and even a lack of spare parts.
Now workers at all levels are walking away in large numbers, sometimes literally taking pieces of the company with them.
A job with Petróleos de Venezuela, known as Pdvsa, used to be a ticket to the Venezuelan Dream.
Carlos Navas, 37, worked on a drilling crew outside of this oil city, El Tigre. He had a house here, with air-conditioning, and a car. He never imagined he might not make enough money to buy food for his wife and three children.
But he quit his job late last year, he said, because