Dispensing with the old

This news is enough to bring a smile to the face:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is squeezing the International Monetary Fund out of Latin America, the region that once accounted for most of its business.

IMF lending in the area has fallen to $50 million, or less than 1 percent of its global portfolio, compared with 80 percent in 2005. Meanwhile, Chavez has used his oil wealth to lend $2.5 billion to Argentina, offer $1.5 billion to Bolivia and hold $500 million out to Ecuador.

Chavez, 52, is promoting what he calls a “socialist” alternative to the Washington-based IMF and its biggest shareholder, the U.S. Treasury. The timing couldn’t be worse for the IMF, whose global clout is diminishing as countries from Uruguay to the Philippines pay their debts.

“Chavez is the No. 1 enemy of the IMF in the region,” said Jose Guerra, a former head of economic research at Venezuela’s central bank and now a professor at Universidad Central de Venezuela in Caracas. “He views the IMF as an agent in the service of the U.S.”

The international lender’s worldwide portfolio has shriveled to $11.8 billion from a peak of $81 billion in 2004, and a single nation, Turkey, now accounts for about 75 percent. As its lending wanes, so does the fund’s ability to influence government policies. The IMF and its sister institution, the World Bank, have used aid to promote free trade, unfettered investment flows and limited government.

Latin America knows a few things about IMF “assistance.”