IMF chief sees economic storm clouds in Venezuela

International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde said that Venezuela's economy appears stressed and that the country likely will face "difficult policy choices" soon.

"I don't think that the economy is doing well at the moment and we certainly understand that they are using reserves in a very significant amount," the IMF managing director said in an interview with CNN's Spanish-language network, aired on Sunday.

Growth in Venezuela's highly oil-dependent economy has slowed sharply this year, forcing the authorities to dip into the nation's foreign reserves to support public finances.

In this context, Venezuela "will really have to face difficult policy issues probably shortly," Lagarde said on the "Oppenheimer Presenta" program.

The IMF head, however, acknowledged that the institution lacks precise data on the country, which for the past 10 years has refused to submit to the Fund's annual economic evaluations for its member nations.

"It's very hard for me to tell you what we see because we don't have the information that we normally work with," Lagarde said.

Former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, who died in March, had repeatedly accused the IMF of being an instrument of American imperialism and threatened to quit the Washington-based institution.

Relations between the IMF and Chavez were seriously and durably damaged when the IMF, in April 2002, declared its support for a new -- and extremely short-lived -- government formed after a military coup ousted Chavez.

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