CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro said on Monday night there was no recovery in oil prices forecast this year, stressing the OPEC country’s dwindling dollar income should be “correctly” administered.
“This year there’s no recovery in oil prices forecast. We’ve done everything but unfortunately the incorrect strategy of President (Barack) Obama’s advisers has led to fracking.... flooding the world’s oil markets,” he said during an hours-long speech at a military event.
Maduro said his socialist government’s social programs would continue even if oil prices were to sink to $20 per barrel, though he called on his Finance Minister Rodolfo Marco to “correctly” administer the country’s dollars.
His comments come days after the government passed a measure that restricts supply of hard currency for foreign travel, potentially improving the country’s capacity to pay debt.
Analysts have long singled out Venezuela’s unwieldy three-tiered currency controls as the root of much of the economy’s distortions and deep recession.
Maduro said Bolivia’s foreign minister was in Venezuela to help his government on the economic front.
Much of Maduro’s speech, however, was dominated by fiery denunciations of unscrupulous businessmen he accuses of hoarding goods to stoke unrest against his two-year administration.
“Do you agree I should radicalize?,” he thundered to the military, who responded with a roar of approval. “We’re going to take a firmer hand,” he said, vowing economic “bandits” would be put behind bars.
He pointed the finger at the administrators of Dolar Today, the go-to website for the black market dollar price, and businesses who had access to preferential exchange rates to import products that are now scarce.
The opposition blasts these crackdowns as sensationalist distractions from economic mismanagement, and warn the measures will only worsen the crisis.
Venezuelans spend hours in queues for basics including flour, milk, detergent, diapers, and cooking oil. Meat has also recently started to run scarce.
Maduro arrived back in Venezuela earlier on Monday after the Summit of the Americas in Panama, where he said Venezuela had pocketed an “historic victory” in rejecting recent U.S. sanctions against seven officials.
He added he visited Fidel Castro in Cuba on his way back from the gathering.
“We spoke for four hours, almost until midnight,” he said, adding they had read news reports on the summit, which saw Obama meet Cuban President Raul Castro in the highest-level talks between the two countries in nearly 60 years, at a time of high tensions between Washington and Caracas.
Reporting by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Michael Perry