Venezuelan oil price falls below $10, lowest level in 20 years

The price of Venezuelan oil has fallen to below $10 a barrel -- its lowest level in more than two decades, the government said on Friday. The oil ministry said the price between Monday and Friday was 70.62 Chinese yuan - $9.90 a barrel - a level that has not been seen since 1998 when it was $9.28.

Since 2017, the government of President Nicolas Maduro has announced its oil prices in yuan rather than dollars in protest over US sanctions.

The weekly price -- last year averaging $56.70 and at $61.41 in 2018 -- has fallen through the floor since the coronavirus pandemic began.

Oil prices have been sliding since 2014 and exacerbating the country's ongoing economic crisis that has pushed almost five million Venezuelans to leave the country, according to UN figures.

Venezuela is almost entirely dependent on its oil revenues, which account for around 96 percent of its income.

"It is an extremely extreme situation," oil expert Francisco Monaldi said this week in a meeting with the country's Foreign Press Association. "Venezuela would normally need prices of more than $30 to make it attractive to continue drilling and pay royalties," he said. "What we are experiencing is a kind of Armageddon."

Venezuela's oil production has fallen to around a quarter of its 2008 level.

Maduro's government blames that on US sanctions, including against state oil company PDVSA, but many analysts say the regime has failed to invest in or maintain infrastructure.

Although the South American country has the largest oil reserves in the world, the sector is a victim of corruption and lack of investment, according to analysts and the Venezuelan opposition.

Between 2004 and 2015, the country earned $750 billion from its oil exports, the price of which peaked in 2011 and 2012 with an annual barrel average of $101.06 and $103.42 respectively. But now, the government is running the printing press to make up for the budget deficit - and fueling runaway inflation.

Despite a national lockdown because of the coronavirus, protests have bubbled up across the country as people experience shortages of food and medical necessities. Officials said several dozen people had demonstrated in Upata, a town of about 100,000 inhabitants, while seven people were injured Wednesday during protests -- that turned to looting -- in the eastern state of Sucre.

At least 10 people have died from COVID-19 in Venezuela, with just over 300 infections, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

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