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.
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.”