US again protects Citgo assets from Venezuela creditors

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — The Trump administration on Wednesday extended a measure blocking holders of crisis-torn Venezuela’s debt from liquidating its U.S.-based Citgo refineries as payment.

The U.S. Treasury Department put off the possible sale of Houston-based Citgo until mid-2021. That gives President-elect Joe Biden several months to set his policy on Venezuela, which is in a historic economic and humanitarian crisis with two men claiming the presidency as millions flee.

The protections had been set to expire on Jan. 19, a day before Biden takes office.

Venezuela has owned Citgo since the 1980s as part of the state-run oil company PDVSA. It has three refineries in Louisiana, Texas and Illinois in addition to a network of pipelines crisscrossing 23 states. It provides between 5% and 10% of U.S. gasoline.

President Nicolás Maduro in 2016 put Citgo up as collateral in an ill-advised debt swap. Bondholders want to sell off Citgo as payment after Venezuela defaulted.

Maduro’s government lost control of Citgo after the Trump administration recognized opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate president in early 2019, shortly after Maduro claimed victory in an election the U.S. and other countries said was rigged.

Citgo is Venezuela’s most valuable foreign asset, and Guaidó’s coalition of U.S.-backed lawmakers views the Houston-based Citgo as a way to fund the crisis-torn nation’s recovery — if Maduro ever leaves power.

Maduro accuses the opposition of illegally getting control of Citgo, saying it is part of an “imperialist” attempt to install Guaidó as a “puppet” leader to take advantage of Venezuela’s vast resources.

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