Colombia proposes $60B US financial rescue plan for Venezuela

Thousands are fleeing Venezuela for Colombia each day as economic refugees. Now, Colombia is hoping to arrange a financial rescue plan for Venezuela, reaching out to international lending agencies.

2,000 Venezuelans crossing border into Colombia every day as economic refugees

This photo, made available by the newspaper La Opinion, shows thousands of Venezuelans entering Colombia through the Simon Bolivar international bridge in Cucuta, Colombia, on Friday. (Edinsson Figueroa/EPA-EFE)

Colombia has contacted international lending agencies about devising a financial rescue plan worth up to $60 billion US for neighbouring Venezuela if President Nicholas Maduro leaves power, Colombia's finance minister said in an interview on Friday.

Hyperinflation and severe recession in oil-rich Venezuela are prompting Venezuelans to flee over the border to Colombia, now about 2,000 a day, Colombian Finance Minister Mauricio Cardenas said.

Officials of the International Monetary Fund, Inter-American Development Bank and World Bank are just beginning to understand the impact of the exodus, he said.

Another photo from La Opinion shows an aerial view of Venezuelans entering Colombia through the Simon Bolivar international bridge. On Thursday, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced new measures that could make it more difficult for Venezuelan migrants to cross into the country illegally or remain there without any official status. (Juan Pablo Cohen/EPA-EFE)

"What happens when Maduro falls? We should not improvise. There should be a plan because Venezuela will require financial support," Cardenas said. He estimated Venezuela would need about $60 billion in loans under a new government and economic policies.

Colombia wants to participate in international lending to Venezuela and take a more direct role in providing financing to help Venezuela rebuild its economy.

"We as a government in Colombia are willing to be part, not just of that conversation and of that plan, but also to provide financing for that transition," Cardenas said.

Colombia would benefit from a recovery in exports to Venezuela, he said. Cardenas said cross-border trade a decade ago was close to $7 billion a year.

Maduro's days 'are numbered'

As the number of Venezuelans crossing the border increases, including unattended children who are eligible for free vaccinations and education in Colombia, the country estimates it will need $30 million to build an assistance centre to give the migrants a temporary place to stay before deciding their next move.

Venezuela's economy is suffering from hyperinflation, shortages in basic food and medicine and increasing lawlessness.

U.S. economic sanctions on Venezuela could expand. Currently they cover individual members of Maduro's government and a ban on buying new Venezuelan debt. Washington is considering restrictions on imports of Venezuelan crude oil and exports of U.S. refined products to Venezuela.

The sanctions are meant to pressure Maduro over his restrictions on political opposition.

"We think the days of Maduro are numbered. The implosion of Venezuela's economy is accelerating," Cardenas said.

Maduro, whose approval ratings are low, is seeking re-election in a vote that must be held by the end of April. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson earlier this month raised the prospect that Venezuela's military could oust Maduro