CARACAS (Reuters) - President Nicolas Maduro said on Tuesday that Venezuela had struck $4.5 billion in mining deals with foreign and domestic companies, part of plan to lift the OPEC nation's economy out of a deep recession causing food shortages and social unrest.
Maduro said the deals were with Canadian, South African, U.S. and Venezuelan companies, but did not specify whether contracts had been signed or just initial agreements.
The socialist leader, whose popularity hit a nine-month low in a survey published this week, said he expected $20 billion in mining investment contracts to be signed in coming days and that 60 percent of the income Venezuela received would be spent on social projects.
Maduro hit back at critics from the left who accuse him of riding roughshod over environmental rules and indigenous rights in the Orinoco mineral belt in Venezuela's south in his rush to shore up his government's precarious finances.
Venezuela has rich veins of gold and exotic minerals like cobalt, but the reserves have mostly been extracted until now by wildcat miners because of a long history of failed ventures and government intervention in the industry.
Venezuela recently settled a long-standing dispute with Canadian miner Gold Reserve over the country's giant Las Cristinas and Las Brisas concessions.
(Reporting by Diego Ore; Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Sandra Maler and Peter Cooney)