Venezuela has declared a moratorium on debt repayments due between now and July 1 while it attempts to negotiate a longer payment period on its $9 billion to $10 billion short-term debt due this year, bankers confirmed yesterday.
Finance Minister Arturo Sosa sent a message to the nation's bankers, informing them of the 90-day payments delay, and saying that Chase Manhattan will head an advisory group of international banks that will work with the nation to reschedule its debts. Venezuela's finances are in considerable confusion, bankers say, as money has flooded out of the country and bankers have become increasingly unwilling to lend to the oil exporting nation.
Sosa has flown several times to New York in a vain attempt to reach quick agreement on rescheduling the loan payments. However, bankers complain that the Venezuelans have failed to come up with a suitable economic and financial plan, and that a feud between Sosa and the central bank governor has made negotiations almost impossible.
Moreover, there has been great uncertainty about exactly how much money Venezuela owes, with estimates ranging from $25 billion to well over $30 billion. One informed source yesterday put the debt total at $32 billion, with $24 billion of this owed by the public sector.
Sosa is now expected back in New York on March 30 to discuss a financing package with the advisory group of banks, sources said. He will then travel to Europe to sell the plan there, reports from Caracas said yesterday.
Venezuela is one of a stream of Latin American nations that cannot repay their debts this year and are asking commercial banks to stretch out repayments. At present, bankers are negotiating with Chile and Peru while Brazil, Mexico and Argentina already have reached agreement, for the time being at least, on rescheduling.
Because of past contributions, Venezuela is able to draw about $1.2 billion from the International Monetary Fund before it would have to agree to any policy conditions laid down by the IMF in return for money. Bankers said Venezuela hopes to draw on that money from the IMF as part of its new financing package.
An IMF team is in Caracas. It is "not entirely happy" with Venezuelan policy, a source said yesterday. The IMF strongly opposes exchange controls of the type introduced in Venezuela earlier this year in an attempt to halt the flow of money out of the country. In addition, the direction of economic and financial policy has "not really been set yet," one banker said.
The moratorium on public sector debt repayments will not include debts from international institutions such as the World Bank, nor debt guaranteed by multinational corporations, it was reported yesterday.
Venezuela intends to keep up interest payments on the debt, bankers said.