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Rubio warns that Venezuela’s tipping point is coming

  • Sen. Marco Rubio weighs in on Venezuela's economy as a big bond payment looms on Friday.
  • He says U.S. sanctions against the regime are "rightfully" accelerating Venezuela's economic downturn.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., told CNBC on Tuesday that Venezuela's government is incompetent, dictatorial and tyrannical.

In an interview ahead of a crucial debt payment due Friday, Rubio was asked if the U.S. is prepared for any fallout that may occur if Venezuela misses the payment.

"The world markets are going to react to that. Certainly, their creditors are. And look, this is where they're headed anyway," he said. "They do not have an economy, they've made terrible economic decisions."

Rubio said in the "Squawk Box" interview that the Venezuelan government is "stealing the treasure of the people of Venezuela" and that U.S. sanctions against the regime are "rightfully" accelerating Venezuela's economic downturn.

"Their moment is coming," he added.

At the CNBC GOP Debate, Sen. Marco Rubio pointed to vocational schools as a lower-cost alternative to the traditional on-campus four-year college degree.
David A. Grogan | CNBC
At the CNBC GOP Debate, Sen. Marco Rubio pointed to vocational schools as a lower-cost alternative to the traditional on-campus four-year college degree.

Creditors wonder if that moment may come Friday. If Venezuela misses the payment deadline, it could lose control of Citgo, its U.S.-based refining operation.

The country's state-owned oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela SA, must pay more than $984 million on Friday. The note is secured by 50.1 percent of Citgo. There is no grace period on the note, which means holders could declare it in default immediately, if unpaid. PDVSA could then lose control of one its most important and valuable assets.

Venezuela has pledged the remaining 49.9 percent of Citgo to Russia's Rosneft. If that loan has a cross-default provision, Russia — in theory — could demand that chunk of Citgo if Venezuela fails to pay on Friday. The details of that contract have not been made public.

The U.S. government has made clear that it will not allow Rosneft to own a piece of Citgo, and the Russians have been trying to renegotiate that deal.

In addition to the Friday payment, PDVSA must also pay $1.2 billion by Nov. 2 for a bond that matures that day.

Venezuela, in crisis for years now because of economic mismanagement, is struggling with payments. The country's cash flow is constrained by declining oil production, and in the last two weeks it has been late on multiple interest payments for various maturities. However, all of those payments were subject to a 30-day grace period, giving Caracas some breathing room.

The deadlines Friday and Nov. 2 have no such grace periods.

Correction: An earlier version misstated the Citgo ownership percentage that secured the note. It is 50.1 percent.