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Venezuela will seize several gold mining concessions that previous governments granted private operators, in a bid to supplement falling oil prices with proceeds from state-controlled gold, President Hugo Chavez said yesterday.
Chavez named no specific contracts or companies to be affected, but his mining minister has vowed to next year take over the country's largest mine, Las Cristinas, which is operated by Canadian mining company Crystallex International Corp.
"We are taking back some concessions that former governments have given, and whose permits are still held by some rich people, (in order to reduce public reliance on oil)," Chavez said.
Venezuela relies on oil for 94% of exports and roughly half its federal budget, making it unlikely that its largely undeveloped gold reserves could compete.
But Chavez said Venezuela must "increase the country's income through non-oil exports," including its world-famous cacao and products from recently nationalized steel and cement companies. Chavez acknowledges that oil prices -- down 70% since topping US$147 a barrel in July -- will affect Venezuela, but he insists the wealthy will suffer more than the country's poor, who benefit from record social spending programs that he vows to continue.
"Social investment will not be halted," Chavez said Friday. "This, for us, is sacred."
Calls to Crystallex's Toronto headquarters went unanswered yesterday.