Oil-price drama shifts to Caracas

The next act in the current drama on world oil prices is to be played out in Caracas, Monitor correspondent David K. Willis writes. A number of OPEC oil ministers are about to gather there. Ostensibly, they have been invited by Venezuelan Energy and Mines Minister Humberto Calderon Berti for the opening of a new refinery on the Paraguana Peninsula.

The OPEC News Agency reported the meeting Jan. 31 from its headquarters in Vienna. It did not confirm other reports saying that only non-Gulf ministers had been invited. In reality, ministers in Caracas will discuss OPEC's continuing failure to agree on production quotas and the likelihood that world oil prices are about to fall.

Venezuela will use the meeting to lobby for its own position. It has steadfastly refused to hold down oil production to levels wanted by Saudi Arabia. Last March OPEC tried to set a quota of 1.5 million barrels a day for Venezuela. This was reportedly lifted to 1.7 million b.p.d. at the recent Geneva meeting.

But Venezuela was pumping 2.2 million b.p.d. in November. Its government, facing elections next December, is reported here to believe it cannot go below 2 million b.p.d. if it is to repay heavy foreign debts and replenish falling foreign-exchange reserves.

Also scheduled to be in Caracas to deliver a paper to a study group Feb. 3 was OPEC Secretary-General Marc Nan Nguema. According to the OPEC News Agency, Mr. Berti says a new OPEC ministerial meeting could be held ''in the coming weeks.''

[In the United States, Reuters reports, the second domestic oil-price cut in two days was announced Tuesday by Texaco and other companies. Texaco reduced its price by $1 a barrel. Meanwhile, the spot-market prices of key North Sea crudes were weak Tuesday, and appeared likely to edge lower after a sharp fall of up to

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