Latin American nations planning new banking unit

BANCO DEL SUR: Officials from seven nations, led by Venezuela, met recently to discuss plans for a regional bank that would rival the IMF and the World Bank


Wed, Oct 17, 2007 - Page 10

Venezuela's leftist government is leading Brazil, Argentina and other regional economies in creating a new bank with the ambition of casting off unwelcome oversight by the IMF and the World Bank.

The idea was first announced by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in December as part of his crusade against US influence and international financial institutions that he says are merely "tools of Washington."

The finance and economic ministers of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela met last week in Rio de Janeiro to outline the main elements of the "Banco del Sur" -- or Bank of the South.

The lender will provide "a new financial architecture" for development in the region, according to the seven backers, whose initiative comes just ahead of annual meetings of the IMF and the World Bank this weekend.

"There will not be credit subjected to economic policies. There will not be credit that produces a calamity for our people and, as a result, it will not be a tool of domination," Venezuelan Finance Minister Rodrigo Cabeza said.

Chavez speaks of liberating regional countries from the tutelage of the IMF, the World Bank and the Washington-based Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) which, he says, impose economic policies that condemn millions to poverty.

Bolstered by robust economic growth, Latin American countries are displaying a new assertiveness toward the IMF now that several of them -- notably Brazil and Argentina -- have paid off their debts early.

The new bank enjoys backing from Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva who, despite his leftist profile, has overseen an economic policy marked by fiscal restraint and growing reserves since coming to power in 2003.

But South America's economic giant declined to give its agreement until clarifying that the bank's role would be limited to aiding investment in the region.

"Brazil shows less interest because it has the greatest credit capacity," said Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega.

However, "we continue to support the project because it will benefit our commercial partners and Brazilian businesses," he said.

The Bank of the South is supposed to finance public and private projects for development and regional integration. The official launch and the signing of a founding charter is set for Nov. 3 in Caracas, which will host the bank's headquarters.

With US$7 billion in capital, the Bank of the South will begin operating next year.

"The idea is to rely on a development agency for us, led by us," Cabeza said.

The seven founders hope to secure the membership of five other countries: Chile, Colombia, Peru, Guyana and Suriname.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe said on Friday on the margins of a summit with Chavez that his country wanted to join the Bank of the South, as long as it was "not a rejection of the World Bank and the IMF but an expression of solidarity and brotherhood."