WASHINGTON/CARACAS (Reuters) - The International Monetary Fund said on Thursday it had not pressured Venezuela to release economic indicators after years of silence, while two sources said the country’s surprise data release this week was due to pressure from China.
The central bank on Tuesday unexpectedly released data confirming Venezuela is suffering hyperinflation and massive economic contraction. The release reversed President Nicolas Maduro’s unofficial policy of classifying economic indicators as state secrets.
The data reported a 22.5 percent contraction in Venezuela’s economy in the third quarter of 2018 from the same period of the previous year. The bank did not provide a full-year 2018 figure for economic activity.
Monthly inflation in April 2019 was 33.8 percent, while 2018 full-year inflation reached 130,060 percent, the bank said.
The IMF said it suspended work with Venezuela on its economic data in January, when opposition leader Juan Guaido invoked the constitution to assume the interim presidency, arguing Maduro’s 2018 re-election was illegitimate.
Most Western countries, including the United States, have backed Guaido as the OPEC nation’s interim head of state. However, Maduro and ruling socialist party continue to control state institutions including the military, state oil company PDVSA and the central bank.
The Fund said in March it was awaiting guidance from member countries on whether to recognize Guaido as the country’s leader. The United States and Venezuelan ally China are important IMF members, as they have the world’s two largest economies.
“Work in this area has been suspended since late January as political developments gave rise to questions regarding government recognition,” the spokesman said.
Last year, the IMF issued a “declaration of censure” against Venezuela for failing to report timely and accurate economic data, such as gross domestic product and inflation.
The move was a warning that Caracas could be barred from voting on IMF policies, and eventually expelled, unless it resumed timely and accurate reporting.
Maduro has repeatedly dismissed the IMF as an agent of U.S. colonialism and criticized the institution for leading harsh austerity programs in developing countries.
China, which has for years sought to increase its influence within the IMF, had pressured Maduro’s government to release the data, according to two sources with knowledge of the matter.
One of the sources said China had hoped releasing the data would help bring Venezuela into compliance with the IMF, making it harder for the institution to recognize Guaido.
An IMF spokesman said the fund could not fully assess the quality of the data because there was no contact with the government.
“We cannot offer a view on data quality as we have not had the opportunity to make a full assessment in the absence of contacts with the authorities,” the spokesman said.
Reporting by Lesley Wroughton in Washington and Corina Pons in Caracas, Additional reporting by Mayelas Armas in Caracas; Editing by Dan Flynn, Dan Grebler, Sonya Hepinstall and David Gregorio