Zimbabwe's president arrives in Cuba, criticizes IMF

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe arrived in Cuba on Saturday, criticizing the International Monetary Fund and celebrating the organization's decision to defer the African nation's expulsion for six months.

"IMF is almost never a real assistance to developing countries," Mugabe said after arriving on the communist-run island, which voluntarily withdrew its involvement with the IMF many years ago.

The international lending organization is "willed by the big powers which dictate what it should do," Mugabe told reporters. "We have never been friends of the IMF and in the future we will never be friends of the IMF."

Mugabe said he was looking forward to meeting with his ally and "brother," President Fidel Castro, after Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque greeted him at the airport. It is Mugabe's ninth visit to the island since 1978.

In Harare earlier Saturday, Mugabe's government hailed the IMF decision as a triumph. Zimbabwe state radio calling it an "achievement against all odds" given the campaign against the nation by countries such as the United States and Britain that are "opposed to Zimbabwe's economic turnaround."

Zimbabwean news broadcasts ignored the IMF's statement that the decision would allow Mugabe six months to put the nation's troubled finances in order.

The IMF statement warned of "a significant risk that, unless strong microeconomic policies are undertaken without delay, economic and social conditions could deteriorate further" in Zimbabwe.

Before the IMF meeting, Zimbabwe made a surprise US$120 million (Ђ97 million) payment of its IMF debt of US$295 million (Ђ238 million). Its total foreign debt, however, stands at US$2.6 billion (Ђ2 billion).

Mugabe blames western sanctions and boycotts for most of the country's problems, including 255 percent inflation and 80 percent unemployment.

The European Union, United States and leading Commonwealth countries including Australia and Canada have imposed "targeted sanctions" against Mugabe.

The IMF suspended aid to Zimbabwe in 1999 after disputes over unbudgeted expenditures, the value of its currency and the cost of its participation in the war in Congo. Within a year the World Bank and the African Development Bank followed.

By 2001, Zimbabwe had stopped making payments on all foreign loans. Two years later, the IMF suspended the country's voting rights and began the process that could lead to the country's expulsion.

The IMF has only expelled one country in its history: Czechoslovakia, in 1954, AP reported.

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