Venezuela central bank gold reserves fall as Maduro seeks cash

CARACAS, Sept 7 (Reuters) - Venezuela’s gold reserves fell by 3 tonnes in the first half of 2021 to their lowest level in 50 years, central bank data showed on Tuesday, as President Nicolas Maduro’s cash-strapped government continues selling gold as a source of income.

The withdrawals in the first six months of the year brought total reserves to 83 tonnes. The once-prosperous OPEC nation’s economy is mired in a years-long collapse, starving the government of funds. More recently, U.S. sanctions aimed at ousting Maduro have targeted oil exports, further eroding state resources.

Those reserves were valued at $4.9 billion by the end of June, a drop of $187 million from the end of 2020. Last year, the South American country’s gold reserves fell by 19 tonnes. The central bank has not disclosed the buyers of its gold. It and the state gold mining company are also under U.S. sanctions.

Venezuela’s opposition has alleged that some of the gold bars were sent to Mali and the United Arab Emirates in exchange for hard currency.

The central bank’s gold reserves for decades exceeded 300 tonnes. When Venezuela’s economic crisis began to worsen in 2015, the government began using gold as backing for loans from international banks, and it has lost some bars as a result of those swaps. (Reporting by Mayela Armas in Caracas; Writing by Luc Cohen; Editing by Peter Cooney)