CARACAS, June 20 Venezuela's non-oil exports
fell in March to their lowest level since early 2009 in another
sign of the economic problems accruing for President Nicolas
Maduro's fledgling government.
For decades, successive governments have decried the OPEC
nation's over-dependence on oil - but done little to put into
practice the grandiose words about diversifying the economy.
The latest data from the state statistics body showed
non-oil exports fell to $145 million in March of this year, 37
percent lower than during the same month in 2012.
The only time monthly exports have been below that, since
statistics were compiled in 1997, was $144 million in 2009.
The figure made further grim reading for Maduro, who won
election in April to replace the late socialist leader Hugo
Chavez after his death from cancer.
Growth slowed to 0.7 percent in the first quarter, inflation
hit a 17-year high of more than 6 percent in May, and the local
bolivar currency is fetching five times more on the black market
than at the official rate of 6.3 to the dollar.
Venezuela's oil exports ensure a surplus in its balance of
payments, but sales abroad of other products have been slipping
since 2005. Last year's relatively paltry $3.8 billion of
non-oil exports compared with $97.3 billion in oil sales,
according to the Central Bank.
Local businesses blame various factors, from problems
accessing foreign currency to delays at customs.
Maduro, who knows that his political fortunes could hinge on
the economy improving, has met various business representatives
in recent weeks to try and unblock problems.
Critics say a decade of currency controls and waves of
nationalizations under Chavez's socialism has pulverized local