Venezuela will try to renegotiate about $15.8 billion of public sector foreign debt maturing in 1983 and 1984 and wants to tap up to $2.8 billion in International Monetary Fund assistance, officials say.
Finance Minister Arturo Sosa told the legislature last week that Venezuela is seeking a two- to three-year grace period and wants to stretch out debt payments over six to 10 years. This year Venezuela has been coping with a jamming up of payments as $13 billion of the country's public sector foreign debt--almost 50 percent of the total of $27 billion--comes due.
An additional $2.8 billion of debt matures in 1984, according to a government report recently submitted to a 13-bank advisory group that is counseling the nation on its debt negotiations.
Venezuela is planning to draw down the $1.4 billion it counts on as reserves in the IMF and an additional $1.4 billion from the IMF's compensatory facility as a credit, which is granted when a country's commodity exports suffer a sharp fall, Sosa said.
Half the amount available under the compensatory facility is granted without conditions, and the rest requires the IMF to accept a Venezuelan economic program, Sosa said. This would mark the first time an OPEC country has resorted to this facility.
Part of the nation's strategy is to ensure that central bank reserves remain around the present $9.7 billion level, enough to handle debt service and two months of imports, Sosa said.
Sosa is scheduled to meet with the IMF this Friday and then with the bank advisory committee.. After the advisory group meeting, Sosa and other Venezuelan officials will hold regional meetings with banks in Los Angeles, Houston, Europe and Japan.
More than 400 banks throughout the world hold $25 billion of the $27 billion Venezuelan public sector foreign debt, Sosa said. U.S. banks hold 46 percent of the debt, followed by banks from Great Britain, Japan, Germany, Switzerland, France and Canada.
While major banks hold the greater part of the medium- and long-term debt, small and regional banks hold the bulk of the short-term debt.
Sosa said the bank advisory committee recommended that Venezuela include the IMF in its negotiations, since proposed banking regulations in the United States are more lenient on banks holding problem foreign loans if the countries renegotiating their debt have IMF-approved economic programs.
However, he added, "the conclusion that an IMF standby agreement should be part of the program is not even remotely unanimous." A standby agreement would mean Venezuela would have to submit to a more stringent IMF regimen for three to four years, he noted.
Though the IMF has not finished its complete report, Sosa said he was in agreement with an IMF memorandum that said Venezuela must make significant adjustments to the loss of petroleum revenue this year.
"I think the adjustment is being done in a rational way," he said. The fiscal adjustment will be reflected in the budget that will be introduced to the Venezuelan Congress in July. The budget will show a "significant reduction" from last year's budget and the elimination of some subsidies, he said.
However, he added, the government did not agree and would not go along with other IMF recommendations on scrapping the triple-tier foreign exchange control system in operation since February, doing away with the present price control system and removing protective barriers benefiting local industry.
"Those arguments did not convince me and they are not in the adjustments that the national government may plan," he said.
Rather than letting the bolivar float until it finds its true value, he said, the government would gradually unify the three existing rates over the course of two to two and a half years as more products are removed from the list of preferential rates.
Sosa, who hoped to receive a national mandate to conduct the negotiations, did not get it last week. Leftist opposition party legislators urged that Venezuela adopt a Latin American solution to the debt crisis and jointly negotiate the continent's debt. Venezuela will play host to a Latin American conference on foreign debt scheduled for late summer.
Reaction among international bankers was largely positive last week, but they cautioned that negotiations would be long and arduous. The bankers said it is widely believed Venezuela will seek another 90-day "standstill" on principal payments when the present one runs out July 1.
However, international banking sources said the negotiating process could be brought to a halt if regional banks, which have not received past due interest payments on loans made to government agencies, bring suit against the country. "If three banks bolt the pack and obtain attachment orders on Central Bank of Venezuela's assets, the thing could grow like wildfire," one banker said, adding that some banks have overdue interest payments dating from late last year.
Another troubling question is whether international banks, which have been insisting that Venezuela adopt an IMF standby agreement that includes a commitment to accept IMF-supervised economic discipline, will go along with the proposal to tap the compensatory facility, which carries few conditions.
"The question is whether banks will be happy with the no-strings-attached formula or whether they will ask for some commitment to a measure of discipline," one international banker said. "Banks do not want a Band-Aid treatment, they want a lasting solution."
There is also a growing perception on the part of some international bankers that the government is putting off the refinancing issue until after the December elections, a charge denied by government spokesmen. Nevertheless, the perception has been reinforced by strong statements made recently, including one by President Luis Herrera Campins, who said international banks were paying Venezuela back for its role as an OPEC member.