Cold com­fort

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - CAR­LOS EDUARDO RAMIREZ / REUTERS

Peo­ple carry goods looted from a food whole­saler in La Fria, Venezuela on Satur­day. Ri­ot­ing erupted in sev­eral cities af­ter the Venezue­lan gov­ern­ment made a cur­rency change that was later de­layed.

Venezue­lan Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro has de­layed un­til Jan 2 tak­ing the na­tion’s highest de­nom­i­na­tion bill out of cir­cu­la­tion.

The 100 bo­li­var bills would tem­po­rar­ily re­main le­gal ten­der, Maduro said on Satur­day, but the bor­ders with Colom­bia and Brazil will re­main closed to hit “mafias” hoard­ing Venezue­lan cash abroad in a plot to desta­bi­lize the coun­try.

“You can calmly con­tinue to use the 100 bill for your pur­chases and your ac­tiv­i­ties,” Maduro said at a meet­ing with of­fi­cials broad­cast on tele­vi­sion.

The bill is worth about 15 US cents at the highest of­fi­cial rate, and un­til re­cently ac­counted for 77 per­cent of the cash in cir­cu­la­tion in Venezuela.

Venezuela has the world’s highest in­fla­tion rate, set to hit 475 per­cent this year ac­cord­ing to the IMF.

The gov­ern­ment is try­ing to in­tro­duce new bills in de­nom­i­na­tions up to 200 times higher than the old ones, but the plan de­railed when Maduro banned the 100 bo­li­var note be­fore the new bills ar­rived.

Four air­planes with the new cur­rency set to ar­rive from abroad were de­layed by in­ter­na­tional sab­o­tage, Maduro said. He did not say where the money was com­ing from, or what type of sab­o­tage.

‘Stress­ful Christ­mas’

Venezue­lans stood in long lines at banks all week to meet a Fri­day dead­line to ex­change their cur­rency. When the dead­line ex­ten­sion was an­nounced peo­ple queued up again on Satur­day.

“I don’t agree with this, I’ve had to come all the way here with my mis­er­able amount of cash to the BCV (Venezue­lan Cen­tral Bank) in or­der to get money to eat. This is madness, I’m tired of it,” said Bis­mary Rivero, a 39 year-old house­wife.

Rivero said that she trav­eled 450 kilo­me­ters from her vil­lage in the eastern state of Mon­a­gas to ex­change her money.

In a coun­try with one of the highest rates of vi­o­lent crime in the world, shop­pers must carry un­wieldy wads of bills to pay for their pur­chases.

Re­tirees had com­plained for months that their pen­sions were paid in un­man­age­able 50- and 20-bo­li­var de­nom­i­na­tions.

Ri­ot­ing and an­gry protests erupted in sev­eral Venezue­lan cities as the chaotic re­form left peo­ple with­out cash to buy food or Christ­mas presents.

Op­po­si­tion politi­cians said on Satur­day that four peo­ple were killed in ri­ot­ing in the cap­i­tal of the south­ern state of Bo­li­var, though of­fi­cials have not con­firmed those fig­ures.

Un­rest how­ever was such that the Ci­u­dad Bo­li­var mayor or­dered a cur­few ban­ning “mo­tor­cy­cles, pedes­tri­ans and pri­vate ve­hi­cles” un­til late on Monday.

State gov­er­nor, Fran­cisco Ran­gel Gomez, said on Twitter that 135 peo­ple were ar­rested for loot­ing, and that sol­diers were de­ployed “to re-es­tab­lish or­der.”

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