Venezue­lans back and forth to banks amid cash chaos

Kuwait Times - - BUSINESS -

Not long ago, Ya­jaira Perez was queu­ing to with­draw cash from the bank, fear­ing bills would run short. Now she is queu­ing anx­iously to put it back in. Venezuela’s food, medicine and cur­rency cri­sis is now a cash cri­sis, too, with the gov­ern­ment about to put mil­lions of bank notes out of cir­cu­la­tion. As usual, it is or­di­nary Venezue­lans suf­fer­ing-wait­ing in line for hours to de­posit the doomed bills, when they could be work­ing, study­ing or car­ing for their fam­i­lies.

“It’s hor­ri­ble, hor­ri­ble. They can’t do this a few days be­fore Christ­mas,” said Perez, a mid­dle-aged house­wife in a black and white head­scarf. Queu­ing in the early morn­ing at a bank in east­ern Cara­cas, she em­bod­ies the of­ten ab­surd im­pact of the eco­nomic cri­sis on peo­ple’s ev­ery­day lives. Spooked by a short­age of ban­knotes, she had been with­draw­ing 100 bo­li­var bills to make sure she had ready cash. Then on Sun­day, Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro or­dered the most com­mon bank note, the 100-bo­li­var unit, to be scrapped by Thurs­day. “Lit­tle by lit­tle you put money aside in case of an emer­gency,” Perez said. “Now I have to come back and I’m end­ing up with no cash at all.”

Some ven­dors have al­ready stopped ac­cept­ing the 100 bo­li­var notes for fear of not be­ing able to de­posit them by Thurs­day. Teresa Gi­raldo, 48, has been get­ting paid mainly in 100-bo­li­var bills for her job as a cleaner. “I went to buy bread and when I got to the front of the queue they wouldn’t ac­cept them,” she said, stand­ing in line. “Now I have to go through this to put them in the bank. Then I will have to come back in a few days and queue for more hours to with­draw the money again. This is crazy.”

Bags of cash

The 100-bo­li­var bill is cur­rently the high­est-de­nom­i­na­tion bank note in Venezuela, but on its own it is scarcely enough to buy a piece of candy. In a coun­try with one of the high­est rates of vi­o­lent crime in the world, shop­pers must carry round un­wieldy wads of bills to pay for their pur­chases. Re­tirees had com­plained for months that their pen­sions were paid in un­man­age­able 50 and 20bo­li­var de­nom­i­na­tions. Even­tu­ally the gov­ern­ment agreed to pay them in bills of 100. Angel Re­tali, 71, queued Tues­day along with some 60 other peo­ple, hold­ing his stacks of cash in a plas­tic bag. “You have to carry so much money around in a bag like this,” he said. “Every­one knows what’s in it, and it’s not safe.”

The gov­ern­ment is sched­uled to start re­leas­ing new higher-de­nom­i­na­tion notes start­ing on Thurs­day, the big­gest be­ing a 20,000 bo­li­var bill.But in the mean­time, Maduro scrapped the 100-bo­li­var bill to com­bat what he called a US-backed plot against Venezuela. He said bil­lions of bo­li­vars, in bills of 100, were stashed away by in­ter­na­tional gangs in Colom­bia, Brazil and even in Europe and Asia.He or­dered the Colom­bia bor­der to be closed for three days, say­ing this would stop the gangs de­posit­ing their hoarded ban­knotes.

The gov­ern­ment said on Tues­day that po­lice had ar­rested 117 peo­ple and seized the equiv­a­lent of $155 mil­lion in raids on such gangs. In the west­ern bor­der re­gion of Tachira, the crack­down caused added mis­ery for peo­ple who rely on cross-bor­der trade. Many lo­cals in the city of San Cris­to­bal are used to cross­ing to the Cu­cuta on the Colom­bian side to buy food and medicine. “We were go­ing to go to Cu­cuta to buy some sup­plies that we can’t get here and save a few bo­li­vars,” said Car­men Hi­daldo, a re­tired teacher of 60. “Now, who knows what we’ll be able to get.” —AFP

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