IMF, WB ready to respond to Venezuelan humanitarian crisis

LUIS ALONSO LUGO
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World Bank President David Malpass speaks at a news conference during the World Bank/IMF Spring Meetings in Washington, Thursday, April 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank said Thursday they are ready to respond to the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela if their participation is requested.

The country is suffering hyperinflation and the economy is rapidly shrinking, causing enormous hardships. Output by the government oil company and other nationalized firms has plummeted in recent years, and new U.S. sanctions are also hurting.

But President Nicolás Maduro has followed the lead of his predecessor, Hugo Chávez, and shunned the two international lending agencies, accusing them of imposing damaging austerity policies on nations they aid.

Neither the World Bank nor the IMF has taken a position in the political struggle between Maduro and Juan Guaidó, the U.S.-backed head of Venezuela's opposition-controlled congress who has declared himself interim president.

"The bank will be involved as the situation evolves and the bank is preparing for that, but the situation is still very troublesome on the ground in Venezuela," World Bank Group President David Malpass said at a news conference.

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said at a separate press conference that the IMF has done "as much preparatory work as we could, drawing on information that is out there, in order to be prepared to act as quickly as we can."

Lagarde said that given the magnitude of the crisis and the collapse of Venezuela's economy, the response will require "a multi-task and multi-pronged effort on the part of many."

The IMF projected this week that the Venezuelan economy will shrink 25% this year, after contracting 18% in 2018.

But neither the IMF nor the World Bank can act before they make a decision on who legitimately governs Venezuela.

Many countries in the Americas and Europe recognize Guaidó, arguing that Maduro's re-election as president last year was invalid. But important countries such as Russia and China continue to recognize Maduro.

"We are waiting to be guided by the membership (on the decision) and I know that it is in process at the moment as we speak from quite a few members," Lagarde said.

Also on Thursday, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin and counterparts from 19 countries heard about Guaidó's policy vision to stabilize Venezuela's financial system. They were briefed by Ricardo Hausmann, designated by Guaidó as coordinator of his economic advisers and representative to the Inter-American Development Bank.

"We will continue to support Venezuela in its transition to a legitimate government as soon as possible to meet the people's aspirations for a better life and democratic future," Mnuchin said in a press release.

The Inter-American Development Bank and the Organization of American States are the only multilateral bodies that have recognized Guaidó as Venezuela's leader.

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Luis Alonso Lugo on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/luisalonsolugo