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Venezuela's Maduro pledges to resolve diesel shortages for farmers

CARACAS, April 21 (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro pledged on Wednesday to resolve shortages of diesel that farmers say are complicating the planting and harvesting of crops, and urged the oil minister to boost domestic production of the fuel.

Maduro blamed the shortages on U.S. sanctions on state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela, part of Washington’s efforts to oust him. The United States last October wound down an exemption to the sanctions that allowed PDVSA to swap crude exports for diesel imports.

“We must regularize the issue of diesel with national production,” Maduro said, calling on Oil Minister Tareck El Aissami to resume normal supply within 60 days. “If we could import, we would be buoyant. We will be buoyant in the production of oil products.”

PDVSA distributes diesel free of charge, and truckers in recent months have reported long waits outside service stations, while farmers have denounced irregular distribution. Diesel output at the company’s refineries has been relatively steady, but experts say output is still below domestic demand.

Venezuela's Fedeagro farmers' group said on Wednesday that diesel shortages led to the loss of about 30% of the country's bean harvest and could complicate the upcoming corn planting season. That could exacerbate hunger in a country where child malnutrition here is on the rise.

Oil companies, aid groups and a U.S. senator have called on U.S. President Joe Biden to lift the ban on diesel swaps for humanitarian reasons.

U.S. officials, who label Maduro a dictator who rigged his 2018 re-election, point out that Venezuela has exported diesel to political ally Cuba and have accused the government of stockpiling the fuel for the military.

Venezuela reached a deal this week with the U.N.’s World Food Programme to supply food to 185,000 schoolchildren. (Reporting by Mayela Armas and Luc Cohen in Caracas; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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