Venezuelan lawmakers authorize $22.5B in new debt

AP News
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Posted: Jun 09, 2011 6:24 PM
Venezuelan lawmakers authorize $22.5B in new debt

President Hugo Chavez won approval from legislators Thursday to increase the amount of new debt Venezuela's government can take on this year to more than $22.5 billion.

In December, lawmakers had authorized the equivalent of $12 billion in new debt this year. But Chavez last week requested that the limit be raised about 86 percent.

Opposition lawmakers criticized the change, expressing concerns about the government's growing debt. They said the boost was unjustified at a time when the OPEC member is enjoying higher prices for its oil.

The law passed with the support of 97 pro-Chavez lawmakers, while 68 opposition lawmakers voted against it.

Pro-Chavez lawmaker Ricardo Sanguino said the additional funds will be used, among other things, to build more public housing and expand the government's agriculture programs.

Chavez, who is up for re-election in 2012, has pledged to boost construction of public housing this year.

Opposition lawmaker Elias Matta said those who will benefit most from the additional government debt will be bankers.

"You've enriched the country's richest people," Matta said in a speech, accusing the government of mismanaging public coffers.

Venezuela draws 95 percent of its export earnings from oil sales. Despite the rise in oil prices in the past couple of years, the government has been increasing its debt.

Between the end of 2008 and the first quarter of this year, the government's foreign debt has jumped 66 percent, from $46.6 billion to about $77.5 billion, according to Central Bank figures.