Venezuela's Maduro seeks oil output boost as he is sworn in

Caracas (AFP) –


Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro was sworn in Thursday for a second term as president of the crisis-wracked Latin American country, just days after winning an election boycotted by the opposition and decried abroad.

In a wide ranging speech, Maduro promised to defeat US sanctions and take steps to correct the course of an economy in ruins, including seeking OPEC support to nearly double its oil output.

Wearing a ceremonial sash in the Venezuelan colors, Maduro swore "to respect and enforce the Constitution and lead all revolutionary changes" in a ceremony before the Constituent Assembly, which he set up himself last year and stacked with his supporters.

The socialist leader said those changes should lead Venezuela to "the peace, prosperity and happiness of our people."

Striking a rare conciliatory note, Maduro admitted a fresh take on Venezuela's problems was needed, in a lengthy speech before the military and government hierarchy.

"We need a profound rectification, we have to do things anew and better, we are not doing things well and we have to change this country," he acknowledged.

He admitted that tighter sanctions imposed by Washington after his re-election will bring more difficulties to the oil producer, not least because they will prevent "necessary imports."

"I cannot deceive anyone, they are going to create serious difficulties for us, painful difficulties, that we will face gradually -- we will defeat them. Trump's sanctions will be nullified and defeated," he said.

Venezuela is going through the worst economic crisis in its history. Hyperinflation has crippled the economy, leading to shortages of food and medicine. Hundreds of thousands of people have fled the country to escape the growing deprivation.

- Oil output increase -

Despite sitting on the world's biggest oil reserves, lack of investment in infrastructure has led to a catastrophic fall in oil production to a 30-year low of just 1.5 million barrels a day.

Turning to Venezuela's oil minister, General Manuel Quevedo, who was attending the ceremony, Maduro said Venezuela would have to increase its output by one million barrels per day.

"This year we have to increase one million barrels. If we have to ask for support from OPEC, ask for it major general -- support from Russia, China, the Arab countries, let's ask!"

Oil contributes 96 percent of Venezuela's foreign revenues. Production fell to 1.5 mpd in April, according to OPEC figures. However, sources cited by the cartel claim the level fell even lower, to 1.4 mpd.

Maduro also promised to work for reconciliation and offered to free political opponents who have not committed serious crimes, to "overcome the wounds" of the protests against him, which have left some 200 dead since 2014.

Maduro planned later Thursday to attend an event at the defense ministry in Caracas to receive a "reaffirmation of loyalty" from the armed forces' high command.

The 55-year-old former bus driver's re-election Sunday in a vote boycotted by the main opposition was widely condemned by the international community, including the United States, which denounced it as a "sham."

Venezuela expelled two US diplomats after the US move to tighten sanctions and the US responded with a similar move.

The European Union said it was also weighing new sanctions after the election was marred by "irregularities" and failed to meet international standards.

Maduro, whose term as president now extends to 2025, leads a government facing increasing international isolation, with the United States, the European Union and the 14 countries of the Lima Group -- which includes Argentina, Brazil and Canada -- refusing to recognize the election result.