Maduro blames plunging oil prices on U.S. 'war' vs Russia, Venezuela

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela’s petroleum export price has plunged by half during the second half of 2014 to $48, President Nicolas Maduro said on Monday in denouncing a U.S.-led “war” against Russia and his nation in the global oil market

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a meeting with governors and ministers at Miraflores Palace in Caracas in this handout photo provided by Miraflores Palace December 22, 2014. REUTERS/Miraflores Palace/Handout via Reuters

The South American OPEC nation’s crude trades at a discount to the U.S. and Brent benchmarks because of its higher content of heavy oil.

Average monthly prices for oil, a product that accounts for 96 percent of Venezuela’s hard currency revenue, have dropped steadily since July, when it was at $96.14 per barrel.

Venezuela enjoyed average prices of $103.42 per barrel in 2012 and $98.08 in 2013.

Giving the latest figure for Monday, Maduro repeated his socialist government’s accusations that the plunge in oil was a U.S.-planned conspiracy primarily intended to harm Russia.

“Did you know there’s an oil war? And the war has an objective: to destroy Russia,” he said in a speech to state businessmen carried live on state TV.

“It’s a strategically planned war ... also aimed at Venezuela, to try and destroy our revolution and cause an economic collapse,” he added, accusing the United States of trying to flood the market with shale oil.

Venezuela and Russia, which both have fractious ties with Washington, are widely considered the nations hardest hit by the global oil price fall.

Even before oil started slipping, Venezuela was suffering an economic slowdown, the highest inflation in the Americas and shortages of many basic products.

Maduro, however, has said over and over that the government will respect its foreign debt obligations and its domestic welfare programs. But financial markets have been jittery, with investors speculating whether Venezuela might default.

Many analysts say Maduro needs to overhaul Venezuela’s economy and are recommending reforms such as a unification of the three-tier currency controls and a rise in Venezuelan gasoline prices, the cheapest in the world.

Possibly nervous about stirring a social backlash ahead of a parliamentary vote in 2015 and also wanting to stay true to predecessor Hugo Chavez’s legacy, Maduro has balked in 2014 at taking any such major economic measures.

On Monday, he again pledged to dedicate himself to fixing the economy in 2015, and said he would announce some details at a news conference on Tuesday.

“2015 has to be the year of a great economic and productive change, a great transformation in the economy ... Thank you empire,” he added sarcastically, saying U.S. hostility would prompt positive changes in Venezuela.

“Tomorrow ... I will make some important announcement about the 2015 economic recovery program, all aspects of national financial stability in Venezuelan currency and freely convertible currency, all the steps that we are going to take for the new foreign exchange system, etc, etc.”

Editing by Steve Orlofsky