| CARACAS, April 23
CARACAS, April 23 Venezuelan President Nicolas
Maduro offered the private sector access to financing via state
investment funds during a meeting with business leaders on
Wednesday meant to stimulate the struggling economy and ease
historic tension with industry.
At a meeting called the Economic Peace Conference, Maduro
said businesses will be able to seek loans from the behemoth
state-run fund Fonden, a joint Chinese-Venezuela fund, and a
fund linked to trade bloc Mercosur.
"I announce I will put (the funds) at the service of this
economic forum ... to spur a new strategy of investment," Maduro
said in televised comments. "I call on you to join this battle
for productivity, growth, fair prices and economic development."
He did not describe how much would be available to lend
through the funds, which have been heavily criticized by
opposition leaders for lack of transparency and limited
Fonden has received more than $100 billion since its 2005
creation but publishes few detailed accounts of the projects it
Maduro said his government would also seek to speed up
disbursement of hard currency to companies that have pending
requests for dollars to import goods, an issue that has been a
chronic complaint of business groups.
Government officials on Wednesday were slated to hold talks
with industry leaders to seek ways to boost productivity.
Maduro has faced nearly three months of violent opposition
protests demanding he resign over soaring prices, product
shortages and violent crime.
Wednesday's measures appeared to be an olive branch to
businesses that Maduro has accused of leading an "economic war"
against him by hoarding goods and artificially accelerating
inflation that is among the world's highest at 57 percent.
Relations with business have been tense since Pedro Carmona,
the head of the largest business organization, Fedecamaras,
became de facto president in 2002 coup that briefly ousted late
socialist leader Hugo Chavez.
The government in March opened a new currency exchange
platform meant to ease shortages of dollars that have limited
imports and left shoppers scrambling to buy imported goods
ranging from toilet paper to wheat flour.
But critics insist that resuming economic growth will
require rolling back Chavez's economic policies including price
and currency controls and a wave of nationalizations that put
hundreds of businesses under state control.
(Reporting by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Prudence Crowther)