Investors leave Venezuela meeting with no clear insightNovember 14, 2017 1:25am

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Foreign investors walked a red carpet at a state palace Monday eager to hear strategies for reorganizing Venezuela's billions in debt, but they left minutes later having learned no concrete plans to address the country's financial crisis.

Vice President Tareck El Aissami, who headed the talks, used much of his time to rail against U.S. President Donald Trump and foreign lenders for leading what the government calls an "economic war" against this oil-rich nation.

But he also tried to assure creditors that debts will continue to be paid, echoing statements by President Nicolas Maduro that Venezuela has made more than $70 billion in debt payments since 2013.

"The state has fully honored its national and international commitments, especially with regard to external debt service," El Aissami said in a televised broadcast. "Even with great sacrifice, we have paid every penny of our debt service."

Those few investors who bothered to show up had few expectations for the meeting, which from the start was clouded in confusion.

Maduro invited investors to Caracas a little more than a week ago while announcing his goal of renegotiating a foreign debt that he said has become impossible to repay because of a U.S.-led financial "blockade" of the socialist-run country.

As Venezuela spent heavily on social programs under the late President Hugo Chavez, a time when global oil prices soared, its debt skyrocketed to over $120 billion, about half of which is in the form of dollar-denominated bonds. The drop in crude prices has ravaged the country that sits atop the world's largest oil reserves, leading to widespread shortages amid triple-digit inflation.

Strained relations between Venezuela and the United States are compounding the situation.

The Trump administration has sanctioned a growing list of Venezuelan officials, including the government's top two debt negotiators, Economy Minister Simon Zerpa and El Aissami. The vice president is accused of being a major drug trafficker.

Washington has also barred U.S. companies from lending new money to Venezuela because of human rights abuses committed during months of anti-government protests and Maduro's efforts to squash the opposition.

But in a sign the Trump administration might be willing to soften its stance, the Treasury Department said last week that it would consider allowing Americans to deal in new debt if any restructuring plan was backed by Venezuela's opposition-controlled congress, whose authority has been steadfastly ignored by Maduro's government.

Russ Dallen, managing partner of Caracas Capital Markets, said several U.S. investors he represents told him they wouldn't bother attending. One said he couldn't get a visa on such short notice and another reported planning to send an intern, citing the lack of information.

"You'd think they'd put it on the table and let you study it if there was some kind of proposal," Dallen said. "There's nothing. Just crickets."

Also Monday, at an informal meeting to discuss Venezuela at the U.N. Security Council, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley called Venezuela "an increasingly violent narco-state" that threatens the world.

Venezuela's U.N. ambassador, Rafael Ramirez, responded by denouncing the session.

"This is a hostile act from the United States and an interference that violates the sovereignty principles of a country that is a member of the United Nations," he told reporters.

In Brussels earlier in the day, the European Union banned arms sales to Venezuela and set up a system to slap asset freezes and travel restrictions on Venezuelan officials as it seeks to ramp up pressure on Maduro. The weapons ban would stop sales of military equipment that could be used for repression or surveillance of Venezuelans.

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