June 8, 2016 / 1:57 AM / 2 years ago

Venezuela's Maduro creates mining ministry

CARACAS, June 7 (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced on Tuesday the creation of a ministry devoted just to mining, as the OPEC nation pushes to develop untapped mineral resources to diversify away from the oil industry, which provides nearly all its foreign exchange.

Maduro’s government is seeking international partnerships with foreign investors to boost gold production. This year, Venezuela inked an agreement with Canadian mining company Gold Reserve to develop the Las Brisas and Las Cristinas mines as a way of resolving a long-running arbitration dispute.

“I announce the creation of the new ministry of popular power for ecological mining development,” Maduro said in his weekly program on state television, appointing Roberto Mirabal to the lead the ministry.

State-run mining firms Minerven and the Venezuelan Mining Corporation will be under the supervision of the new ministry.

Mining activities had been overseen by the Ministry of Petroleum and Mining.

Mirabal will be in charge of leading negotiations with Gold Reserve, which won a $750 million award through the World Bank’s International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes following a conflict over the 2009 termination of a mining concession.

Gold Reserve agreed this year to participate in a new joint venture with Venezuela’s government as a way of resolving the dispute.

Venezuela is suffering a severe recession and the world’s highest inflation because of a combination of low oil prices and a decaying state-led socialist economic model. Maduro blames the problems on an “economic war” carried out by political rivals and business leaders. (Reporting by Corina Pons; Writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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