UPDATE 1-Oil refiner Citgo Petroleum elects Jose Pocaterra as chairman of its board

(New throughout, adds details, background)

HOUSTON, Feb 12 (Reuters) - U.S. oil refiner Citgo Petroleum Corp said on Friday its board elected Jose Pocaterra, its newest member, as chairman of its board of directors.

Pocaterra, a finance executive who joined the Citgo board a month ago, replaces former Chairperson Luisa Palacios, who stepped down in October and remained a director.

The new chairperson “brings more than 20 years of international experience in the financial, business and planning areas within the oil and gas industry,” said Carlos Jordá, Citgo’s chief executive.

The Houston-based company is owned by Venezuela, but its leadership split with the government of President Nicolas Maduro, whose 2018 reelection was widely denounced as a sham.

The company faces legal challenges in the United States that could see it broken up or sold to repay debts incurred by Venezuela.

Its board is confirmed by Venezuelan lawmakers who recognize Juan Guaido as the country’s legitimate leader. Maduro accuses the opposition of “stealing” Citgo and considers Guaido a U.S.-backed puppet.

The eighth-largest U.S. refiner by capacity recently bolstered its finances with nearly $900 million from two debt offerings. Citgo has posted losses from a sharp downturn in global demand for motor fuel triggered by pandemic-related travel cutbacks.

Citgo operates oil refineries in Illinois, Louisiana and Texas, and owns a series of pipelines and oil-storage terminals, posted a $412 million loss for the first nine months of 2020. It has not yet released results for the fourth quarter. (Reporting by Gary McWilliams Editing by Chris Reese and David Gregorio)