Venezuela to release $2.1 bln in hard currency to companies

CARACAS Fri May 30, 2014 2:29pm EDT

CARACAS May 30 (Reuters) - Venezuela will begin releasing $2.1 billion in hard currency to companies that have struggled to obtain greenbacks through currency controls, the country's top economic official said on Friday.

Some $1.2 billion of the payments will go to small and medium-sized businesses in the food, health, chemicals and heavy industry sectors, Economy Vice President Rafael Ramirez told reporters.

Ramirez said $930 million more will be disbursed to larger companies, including $486 million for airlines.

Delays in Venezuela's currency controls have left many companies unable to import machinery or raw materials, while foreign companies such as airlines have been unable to repatriate revenue from Venezuelan operations.

Venezuela's local airline industry association said on Thursday that 24 international airlines have an estimated $4.2 billion trapped in the country due to currency controls.

The finance minister earlier this week said Venezuela made pending currency disbursements to six airlines, without detailing the amounts. (Reporting by Girish Gupta; Editing by Grant McCool)

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