On Thursday, at a raucous gathering of loyal supporters inCaracas, President Nicolas Maduro made official what the bondmarket had been anticipating for years: cash-strapped Venezuela isgoing to seek debt relief.

Blaming the financial sanctions imposed by the U.S.government—and its “lackeys” in the Venezuelan opposition wholobbied for such measures—Maduro said that a $1.1 billion principalpayment on bonds from state-run oil company PDVSA that was dueThursday will be the last one made before the countrybegins negotiations with creditors.

“Venezuela has had to face a genuine financial blockade,” Madurotold the crowd in a fiery, speech broadcast on national televisionthat lasted more than an hour.

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