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OPEC President Forced Out 6 Months After His Election

June 26, 1986|DON SCHANCHE | Times Staff Writer

BRIONI, Yugoslavia — The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries dismissed its controversial president Wednesday, only six months after he took office, and named its youngest member--a Nigerian--to succeed him.

Arturo Hernandez Grisanti, a Venezuelan who was elected president last December to a job that normally extends to more than one six-month term, was ousted after a fellow OPEC minister publicly chided him--in a poem--for being ineffective and "a weakling."

His replacement, Rilwanu Lukman, a 46-year-old mining engineer, was elected without opposition following general agreement in a closed-door meeting that Hernandez Grisanti had to step down, conference sources said.

The switch came at the opening of OPEC's normal summer meeting, one of two annual gatherings. At the summer meeting, the cartel customarily reelects its president as a matter of course.

Chides Hernandez Grisanti in Poem

Hernandez Grisanti took the helm of OPEC at probably the worst time in its history. A world oil glut had driven down prices to $12 per barrel or less from more than $30. Other ministers' objections to his leadership began to surface at special meetings of the organization in March and April. But it was not until the eve of Wednesday's formal opening session here that any minister went public with his criticism.

Mana Said Oteiba, the oil minister of the United Arab Emirates--who has published a book of whimsical poems about oil and OPEC--circulated a poem bemoaning the losses caused by the oil price collapse and chiding Hernandez Grisanti. It referred to the Venezuelan as "Sheik Arturo" and characterized OPEC as a bride ready for a wedding--but to a husband who is "none other than an able president, not a weakling linked with her present qualities."

The vote to replace Hernandez Grisanti with Lukman came only moments after Hernandez Grisanti opened the conference with an optimistic speech predicting that the oil price collapse will be "merely a temporary phenomenon." He warned industrialized countries jubilant over the price decline that in the end, the lower prices may hurt them as much as they have hurt the OPEC countries.

Conference sources on this tightly guarded resort island, once the favorite retreat of the late Yugoslav President Tito, said the oil ministers have not begun their expected debate over strategy to deal with the price collapse but probably will start today.

A majority of the ministers reportedly favor a Saudi Arabian-backed strategy of keeping the price temporarily low by setting high production quotas to drive high-cost petroleum producers out of the market. The strategy is designed to force such competitors as Britain to cooperate with OPEC on setting prices. The cost of production in Britain's North Sea oil fields is much higher than the Arabs', although the British have said it still remains well below the current price of oil.

A small, hard-line OPEC group made up of Libya, Iran and Algeria opposes the Saudi strategy and is pressing for a drastic reduction in OPEC production, counting on the resulting scarcity to jolt prices back above the $20-a-barrel level.

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