Despite last week's drop in oil prices, government officials say they expect Venezuela to sign a long-term rescheduling of its foreign debt as planned.
Their confidence will be tested soon because Venezuela and its foreign creditors are due to sign the agreement to refinance $21.2 billion of the nation's public sector foreign debt next month.
"Despite the fall in prices, there's a strong will on both sides to sign," one foreign banker here said. "Our feeling is we have a deal; let's sign and get on with it."
Government officials and bankers base their optimism on Venezuela's $15.8 billion in foreign reserves, the highest total in Latin America. Liquid reserves are $8.5 billion.
Venezuela's overall foreign debt is $33.5 billion, the fourth-largest in Latin America, behind Brazil, Mexico and Argentina.
Bankers say Venezuela's debt agreement, the first to be signed in Latin America without the mediation of the International Monetary Fund, is safe as long as prices do not stay below $20 a barrel throughout the next 12 months.
If prices do not continue to drop, Venezuela's oil export earnings are expected to be about $12 billion this year compared to $14.8 billion in 1985. Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Ahmed Zaki Yamani has warned, however, that prices are likely to decline further when winter ends in the northern hemisphere and demand falls.
This would put further strains on Venezuela's budget, but officials say they based this year's on the expectation of lower oil income.
Oil accounts for 90 percent of export earnings, 25 percent of gross domestic product and 60 percent of government revenue in this country of 17 million people.
The revenue drop means the government cannot prime the pump to reflate Venezuela's stagnant economy.
President Jaime Lusinchi has held down spending this year, although he recently announced a three-year, $2 billion spending plan designed to lower the 15 percent unemployment rate. Labor leaders, who are closely allied with the Lusinchi administration, had pressed for a higher figure.
Venezuela's economy has been stagnant since 1979, following spectacular growth in the 1960s and 1970s. Real wages and consumer demand have dropped steadily in the past two years.
Following an emergency meeting last weekend between the oil ministers of Mexico and Venezuela, Lusinchi will travel Thursday to Mexico for talks with President Miguel de la Madrid. They will discuss ways to coordinate oil pricing.
Venezuela cut the price of its primary grades of heavy crude oil by as much as $1.30 a barrel earlier this month to match similar price cuts by Mexico the previous week.
This was the fourth time in the past six months that Venezuela matched Mexican price cuts in order to compete in the United States. Venezuela is the third-largest oil exporter to the United States, and Mexico is first.
In another move to combat the oil market's instability, Venezuela has followed the lead of fellow Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries member Kuwait by buying a share of refineries with private foreign firms. This will ensure the country a market for at least part of its oil.
Petroleos de Venezuela, the state oil company, announced last week it will establish joint ventures with Steuart Petroleum of the United States and the Axel John Group of Sweden as well as expand its two-year-old agreement with Veba Oel of West Germany.