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Venezuela says U.S. sanctions hit debt refinancing, oil sales

GENEVA (Reuters) - Venezuela charged on Friday that U.S.-led sanctions had stopped foreign debt refinancing, blocked vital food and medicine imports, and cost billions of dollars in lost oil assets.

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Vice foreign minister William Castillo also rejected censure by United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet and denied there was a humanitarian crisis in the leftist-led OPEC member state whose economy has imploded.

President Nicolas Maduro’s government says Venezuela is the victim of a U.S. plot to topple him, eradicate socialism and hand the world’s largest oil reserves to multinationals.

But President Donald Trump’s government calls him an illegitimate dictator and has recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as interim ruler, slapping layers of sanctions on the oil sector and Maduro allies.

“Today the United States has confiscated some $30 billion in (state oil company) PDVSA assets while 40 banks are holding onto some $5.4 billion, preventing Venezuela from purchasing food and medication,” Castillo told the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

“Venezuela can’t refinance its debt and oil tankers and businesses are being punished,” he added, saying oil export income had plummeted from $40 billion per year to $5 billion.

The South American country has debts worth around $200 billion to a diverse group of bondholders, commercial suppliers and companies whose assets were expropriated.

With defaults mounting, creditors are reluctant to negotiate a restructuring due to the U.S. sanctions.

Bachelet’s report, which followed her visit to Caracas in June, said Venezuelan security forces were sending death squads to murder young men.

Castillo said Venezuela rejects such “criminal accusations”.

“Beyond the certain occasional excess, it would seem that the state is expected to sit still while serious security risks and a coup d’etat are being planned including foreign intervention as President Trump has threatened,” he said.

Venezuela’s crisis has seen waves of protests that have often turned deadly in recent years. Four million Venezuelans have fled their homeland, all but 700,000 of them since the end of 2015, U.N. aid agencies say.

Feliciano Reyna, head of a coalition of activist groups, told the council democracy was disintegrating in Venezuela.

“The dismantling of the state and the breakdown of the state give rise to widespread human suffering, social violence and state policies that have closed down freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly, and give rise to repression, arbitrary detention, torture and extrajudicial killings.”

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne