Venezuela cenbank head acknowledges economic "crisis"
By Andrew Cawthorne
CARACAS, March 16 (Reuters) - Central Bank President Nelson Merentes acknowledged on Sunday that Venezuela was undergoing an "economic crisis" but said measures like a new market-based currency mechanism would help bring rapid improvements.
"It's a crisis, but it's not a crisis of such deep dimensions as some analysts say," said Merentes, who is considered more of a reformist than other senior financial officials in President Nicolas Maduro's government.
An annual inflation rate of 56 percent and shortages of products have fuelled a wave of opposition protests that have led to violence killing at least 28 people in the South American OPEC member nation since mid-February.
"We can't hide the reality: the economy has inflation, shortages, and growth is not robust," Merentes said in an interview on local TV. "But Venezuela has the ability to get out of this moment which is not so good. Indeed, the government is taking measures that will help us get out quickly."
A newly-announced foreign exchange market, known as Sicad 2, is due to begin within days, and has already brought the black market price of the U.S. dollar down from about 85 bolivars to between 72-75, according to illegal web sites that quote it.
Holding a graph showing the fall, Merentes said that once operational, Sicad 2, would help combat the black market.
Economists expect dollars to be available at anywhere between 20-50 bolivars via Sicad 2, compared with 6.3 and about 11 via two other state-controlled exchange systems.
Opposition politicians have decried the imminent introduction of Sicad 2 as a disguised devaluation, but Wall Street analysts, bondholders and private economists have generally welcomed it as a necessary liberalization measure. Continuación...