updated 5/4/2005 2:41:30 PM ET 2005-05-04T18:41:30

Venezuela’s oil production has unexpectedly fallen by 100,000 barrels per day, and officials are investigating whether that drop could partly be a result of sabotage, President Hugo Chavez said Tuesday.

Chavez said the problems arose mainly in oil fields in western Venezuela, adding that the decline is also linked to other factors, including “management errors” and a lack of maintenance on some wells. The area should produce 1.07 million barrels per day, he said.

Chavez did not say how officials came to believe sabotage may be a factor.

But his comments came as union leaders said the state oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela S.A., or PDVSA, was halting agreements with contracted companies employing about 8,000 workers in the same region.

Playing down the contract issue, Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez said Tuesday “it only has to do with the expiration of labor contracts.” He said 40 managers and employees of PDVSA’s western division had been suspended for suspected irregularities.

Neither Chavez nor Ramirez repeated accusations made last week by Defense Minister Jorge Garcia Carneiro that the CIA had infiltrated the firm’s western division in one of many alleged attempts by the United States to “provoke upheavals.”

Chavez and other top Venezuelan officials routinely accuse Washington of working to undermine his government — including during a two-month strike aimed at ousting him two years ago. The strike nearly brought the oil industry to a halt but fizzled out in early 2003.

Chavez said the state oil company is working to step up production. He also said he urged PDVSA to handle more of the actual pumping and transport work on its own without relying on private contractors. PDVSA’s work force includes about 15,000 full employees and 29,000 contracted workers.

Venezuela is the world’s No. 5 oil exporter, and a major supplier to the United States. While its government has previously said it is producing 3.1 million barrels of crude a day, independent analysts have said the figure is likely closer to 2.6 million.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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