Venezuela to Quit IMF, World Bank

CARACAS ~ Venezuela is set to quit the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in a move announced by President Hugo Chavez, as Latin American countries become increasingly wary of the two institutions.

“We are going to withdraw … and let them pay back what they took from us,” Chavez said in a televised message broadcast on Monday.

The move is largely symbolic, as Venezuela has repaid all its debts to the multinational organizations.

Chavez ordered Finance Minister Rodrigo Cabezas to begin proceedings to withdraw Venezuela from the global lenders.

“I read in the press somewhere that the IMF does not have enough money to meet its payroll,” he explained.

“We are going to withdraw before they go and rob us,” he added.

Chavez, who has made a habit of demonizing the Bush administration, claimed the IMF and the World Bank were “tools of US imperialism” to exploit the less powerful.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that Chavez was “digging a hole for the Venezuelan people” with the withdrawal.

“You can’t take the shovel out of the man’s hand; he just keeps digging,” McCormack said.

According to McCormack, it is “not just the Venezuelan elites around President Chavez who suffer as a result of these decisions; it’s really the Venezuelan people who suffer.”

Dominated since their conception by the United States and Europe, the two financial institutions have come under renewed scrutiny in South America.

Long subjected to the IMF’s austerity policies, Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay have reimbursed ahead of time a large part of their debt, thanks to renewed economic growth.

Argentina has also become a strong supporter of Chavez’s plan to create a regional bank as an alternative to IMF lending, which would be funded in part by Venezuela’s oil revenues.

In a further reflection of the organizations’ diminished clout in the developing world, Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa, a leftist ally of Chavez, recently kicked out the World Bank’s representative to his country.

The US administration accuses Chavez of being a destabilizing force in Latin America, and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice claimed last week that he was wrecking Venezuela “economically and politically.”

A former paratrooper first elected in 1998, Chavez was given sweeping powers in February to govern by decree for 18 months. He says he is leading Venezuela on a track toward “21st century socialism.”

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