Venezuelan officials Nov. 25 announced the first air shipment of overseas gold holdings as part of a move to repatriate the country’s foreign reserves from Europe and North America. The gold was unloaded from a plane and taken under heavy guard to the Central Bank in Caracas. Said President Hugo Chávez: “Now [the gold] will go to a place from which it should have never left: the Central Bank vaults; not those in London or in Europe, but our own land.” Venezuela plans to return some 160 tons of gold, worth more than $11 billion and making up 85% of the country’s bullion reserves.
Central Bank chief Nelson Merentes hailed the return of the gold as an “historic act,” saying, “The country’s finances will be backed by autonomous wealth, so we are not subject to pressure from anyone.” Opposition groups criticized the move as a populist measure aimed at boosting Chávez in the polls ahead of next October’s presidential elections, when he is seeking another term in office. Opined Dow Jones: “The move puzzled economists, who said it would further reduce transparency and raise more questions over the central bank’s declining reserves.” (Dow Jones, BBC News, Nov. 25)