IMF rejects Venezuela appeal to fight COVID-19

A sanitary washdown at the entrance of the popular Coche food market in Caracas, where people are sprayed down before entering. Photo: María Isabel Batista/Venezuela Analysis.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has rejected Venezuela's appeal for an emergency US$5 billion loan to face the coronavirus health crisis.

Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza revealed on March 17 that President Nicolas Maduro had sent a letter to IMF President Kristalina Georgieva requesting funds from the Rapid Financing Instrument to “strengthen [Venezuelan] detection and response systems.”

The Associated Press reported on March 16 that the IMF was not “in a position to consider” Venezuela’s request. According to a statement, it does not have “clarity on recognition” of the Maduro government.

Opposition leader Juan Guaido proclaimed himself “interim president” in January 2019 and was immediately recognised by the United States and its allies. With its member states split on recognising Guaido as the country’s legitimate president, the IMF has not taken a position on the matter.

Venezuela’s healthcare system has been hard hit by years of economic crisis and US sanctions. Officials have repeatedly denounced obstacles in importing medicines and other equipment.

Cooperation with the Red Cross and United Nations agencies has increased in recent months in attempts to tend to the most vulnerable sectors.

The Washington-based lending body has allocated US$50 billion in loans to countries struggling to deal with the pandemic. Iran reportedly also applied for a US$5 billion loan.

The Maduro government’s request generated debate on social media, with critics pointing towards former President Hugo Chavez’s fierce opposition to the IMF over the body’s promotion of neoliberal structural adjustment policies across the continent.

The Venezuelan government has acted swiftly following the confirmation of the first COVID-19 cases in the country last week, declaring a state of emergency followed by national quarantine measures.

Authorities have imposed restrictions on movement and commercial activity, with public transport reserved for workers in the health, food, retail and other priority sectors.

Health officials have warned that the number of confirmed cases is due to grow in the coming days.

Vice President Delcy Rodriguez announced on March 18 that the number of confirmed cases remains at 36. She stated that the quarantine is being 90% enforced and lauded the “collective discipline” of the Venezuelan people.

Rodriguez likewise revealed that Maduro had held a telephone conversation with World Health Organization President Tedros Adhanom, who reportedly pledged to support the country with coronavirus test kits, supplies and technical assistance.

Venezuelan authorities announced on March 18 that a huge testing campaign would be deployed over March 21–22 with Venezuelans being asked to fill out an online survey should they have coronavirus symptoms.

[Abridged from Venezuela Analysis.]

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