(AFP) – Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro floated the idea Tuesday of cutting off oil sales to the United States, which buys almost half its output.
Never one to shy away from provocative rhetoric, socialist Maduro said that US sanctions against Caracas were over the top, and maybe not worth the trouble.
Venezuela produces 1.9 million barrels per day of which the United States buys 750,000.
“The day that they don’t want us to sell them our oil, we are just picking up our stuff (and) we’ll sell all our oil in Asia. No big deal,” Maduro said while formally installing General Manuel Quevedo to lead state oil giant PDVSA.
Maduro maintains the United States is carrying out “financial persecution” against Caracas, which gets most of its budget revenue from oil sales on a soft international market.
PDVSA and Venezuela have been declared in selective default for failing to meet payments on certain bonds in time.
Maduro is keen to renegotiate some of Venezuela’s $150 billion in external debt, 30 percent of it at PDVSA.
But the sanctions from Washington, which has labeled the Maduro regime a dictatorship, prohibit US individuals and banks from buying new Venezuelan bonds, usually a requirement for any debt resolution.
“Mr President Donald Trump: you decide, dude,” Maduro declared.
“If you want us to keep selling oil, we’ll sell oil. But if you start listening to far-right extremists, Venezuela is grabbing its little boats and taking its oil around the world, and we’ll sell it just the very same,” Maduro said, drawing whoops and cheers from oil workers.
Maduro on Sunday set increased production as a top priority for PDVSA.
With barely $10 billion in its hard currency reserves, Maduro’s government has been fighting to stay afloat.
The prolonged economic crisis has brought crippling shortages of food, medicine and industrial inputs, fueling inflation which at 1,000 percent is the world’s highest — and the International Monetary Fund projects could exceed 2,300 percent next year.