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Venezuela hiking gas prices for first time in 20 years

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Baku, February 18 AZERTAC

For two decades, Venezuelans have paid just pennies at the pump.

Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro, has announced the first rise in petrol prices in 20 years and a sharp devaluation of the currency which he said aimed to shore up the flailing economy, hard hit by falling oil prices which make up 95% of foreign income.

According to the Guardian, the official exchange rate used for food and medicine imports will weaken to 10 bolivars per dollar from 6.3, as of Thursday, while a second rate will be allowed to float.

The socialist government’s announcement on Wednesday revealed some of the free market reforms that analysts have been clamouring for in the oil-dependent nation although critics say they don’t go far enough to right the country’s crisis-hit economy.

Maduro said the new fuel prices would help support social programmes such as housing, health services and education, which had won his predecessor, Hugo Chávez, a broad following when he set the country on a socialist path 17 years ago.

Maduro said he hoped the measures “will be understood by the people on the streets”, alluding to the 1989 wave of violence known as the “Caracazo” that left hundreds dead, sparked by a rise in fuel prices. Maduro also announced a 20% increase to the country’s minimum wage, effective 1 March.

Under the constitution, the opposition needs to collect almost 4 million signatures to force a recall referendum and then get more people to vote against him than those who voted for him in the 2013 presidential election.

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