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Russia Says It Will Ease Debt Burden on Venezuela

With Venezuela on the edge of default, Russia has thrown it a life preserver.

The Russian finance minister, Anton Siluanov, announced on Wednesday that the two countries had agreed to the restructuring of roughly $3 billion in Kremlin loans.

The amount is tiny compared with Venezuela's crushing $120 billion debt, but it may help President Nicolás Maduro's government make hundreds of millions of dollars in payments over the next few weeks to other creditors and help reassure bondholders that a default is not imminent.

It has been a scramble for Venezuela to make a $1.2 billion payment on a national oil company bond due last Friday, mostly principal, which had no grace period. Early Wednesday, investors and financial analysts were beginning to fear that Venezuela would not come up with the money it had promised to pay.

By midday, overdue transfers to bondholders began. Still, over the last month Venezuela has delayed payment of more than $350 million in interest on various bonds, with grace periods ending over the next few weeks.

"Clearly the Venezuelans have been looking for relief anywhere they can get it, and at this point Russia is their most viable source of financing," said Risa Grais-Targow, director for Latin America at Eurasia Group, a political risk analysis firm. "The Venezuelans have been pushing very hard on the Russians."

This is the third time since last year that Russia has come to Venezuela's aid when Caracas was in deep financial trouble. And its lending to the Venezuelans has been part of a worldwide strategy to use the Russian national oil company Rosneft to help achieve foreign policy objectives.

Over the past three years, Russia has provided Caracas with $10 billion in financial assistance, and last year Rosneft took a 49.9 percent stake in Citgo, the Venezuelan state oil company's refining subsidiary in the United States. That represented collateral for a $1.5 billion loan to the parent company, Petróleos de Venezuela, known as Pdvsa. Rosneft is negotiating to swap the interest in Citgo for oil fields in Venezuela.

Rosneft's investments have also been focused on Cuba, China, Egypt and Vietnam, and it has been seeking deals around the eastern Mediterranean and Africa, areas where it contends with American interests. Using its oil company as a geopolitical tool has given Russia more running room at a time when Western sanctions weigh heavily on its economy.

The terms of the restructuring were not made public on Wednesday, and neither were details of the original loan. Ms. Grais-Targow said the Russian loan might go back several years, to a time when former President Hugo Chávez, who died of cancer in 2013, bought Russian armaments.

Since Venezuela customarily pays Russia back with oil, the renegotiation could mean that Venezuela will have more oil to sell on world markets for badly needed cash to make debt payments as well as import food and medicines that are in short supply.

Stuart Culverhouse, head of sovereign and fixed-income research at Exotix Capital, an emerging-markets investment bank and broker that trades Venezuelan bonds, described the renegotiation as "Russia trying to be reasonably friendly to prevent something worse."

The Venezuelan government has invited international bondholders to Caracas on Monday to begin negotiations to restructure more than $50 billion in bonds owed to private creditors. The announcement last week was an acknowledgment that Venezuela cannot pay all its debts on time, but any renegotiation will be made difficult if not impossible by United States sanctions.

Washington's sanctions prohibit Americans from dealing with the man in charge of the renegotiation, Vice President Tareck El Aissamí, whom American officials have linked to drug trafficking. Sanctions put in place in August also restrict trading of Venezuelan bonds sold by the government in American financial markets.

But the call for negotiations also makes an outright Venezuelan declaration of nonpayment of loans more unlikely, so a default would have to be declared by major bondholders themselves.

For a default to occur, holders of 25 percent of the value of the bonds would first have to raise the issue with trustees or fiscal agents listed on the bonds. If the government does not satisfy the trustee or agent that it is prepared to make good on the obligations, the creditors can then seek a resolution in court.

Mr. Culverhouse said he did not think that bondholders, a diverse group of Venezuelan and international individuals and financial institutions, would move precipitously.

"I don't think a majority would want to accelerate things and declare a default right now," he said, "They would want to see what the government's reaction would be."

[Source: By Cliford Krauss, The New York Times, 08Nov17]

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small logoThis document has been published on 16Nov17 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.