- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 18, 2020

The International Monetary Fund shot down a request Tuesday from officials from the government of socialist Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro seeking a $5 billion rescue loan amidst the growing coronavirus pandemic, making the South American nation the first to attempt to tap into $50 billion in emergency funds the IMF has set aside to jump-start international economies.

An IMF spokesperson said the request could not be granted due to the power struggle in Caracas between Mr. Maduro and U.S.-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido, leaving it unclear who had the authority to request the loan.

“Unfortunately, the Fund is not in a position to consider this request,” an IMF spokesman said in a statement. “… IMF engagement with member countries is predicated on official government recognition by the international community, as reflected in the IMF’s membership. There is no clarity on recognition at this time.”

Venezuela, already in the midst of a widespread refugee crisis, is watching its oil industry limp along as harsh sanctions from the Trump administration halved production over the past year. The spread of COVID-19 has been limited in Venezuela thus far — only 33 reported cases as of Tuesday — but officials worry the virus could crumble an already vulnerable population.

The fund request from Mr. Maduro, who just last month called the IMF a puppet of U.S. imperialism, came as a surprise to the organization.

“The [Venezuelan] government is taking different preventive measures and following thorough, strict and exhaustive controls to protect the Venezuelan people,” Mr. Maduro said in a letter to IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva. “For this reason, we are turning to your honorable organization to request its evaluation about the possibility of authorizing Venezuela a financing line of $5 billion from the emergency fund of the Rapid Financing Instrument.”

The U.S. is part of a group of more than 50 nations that recognized Mr. Guaido after accusing Mr. Maduro of fraud in the 2018 presidential election.

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