Venezuela cash cri­sis sparks loot­ing, protests

Kuwait Times - - BUSINESS -

CARACAS: Des­per­ate Venezue­lans looted de­liv­ery trucks and clashed with po­lice as a botched plan to in­tro­duce new ban­knotes left peo­ple with­out cash-the lat­est short­age in a spi­ral­ing eco­nomic cri­sis.

Late Fri­day Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro blamed op­po­si­tion politi­cians for the un­rest, claim­ing that there were pic­tures and videos of some op­po­si­tion mem­bers of the Na­tional Assem­bly in­volved in “at­tempts of van­dal­ism and some acts of vi­o­lence.” He warned that “par­lia­men­tary im­mu­nity does not reach that far,” but did not give any names.

Maduro men­tioned that ri­ot­ers had torched two state banks in the town of Guas­dal­ito, near the border with Colom­bia. He blamed un­named op­po­si­tion lead­ers who were also part of a “con­tra­band mafia” for the in­ci­dent, and warned that they “will be cap­tured and put be­hind bars in the next hours.”

Faced with world-high in­fla­tion that has made its money in­creas­ingly worth­less, the govern­ment is try­ing to in­tro­duce new bills in de­nom­i­na­tions up to 200 times higher than the old ones. But the plan went off the rails when Maduro or­dered the 100-bo­li­var note re­moved from cir­cu­la­tion be­fore the new bills ar­rived.

For­merly the high­est de­nom­i­na­tion bill, the 100-bo­li­var note was worth about three US cents, and ac­counted for 77 per­cent of the cash in cir­cu­la­tion in Venezuela.

An­gry protests erupted around the coun­try as the chaotic re­form left peo­ple with­out money to buy food or Christ­mas presents. In the sec­ond city of Mara­caibo in the west, groups of pro­test­ers hurled stones at po­lice, re­ports said. In the east­ern city of Ma­turin, dozens of peo­ple blocked off a ma­jor av­enue and loot­ing broke out. “I went by the mar­ket and it was be­ing guarded by the mil­i­tary. A chicken truck was looted,” Juan Car­los Leal, a farmer in Ma­turin, told AFP.

In the east­ern city of Puerto la Cruz, “peo­ple ri­oted be­cause they wanted to take out money and they weren’t al­lowed to,” said Gen­e­sis, a lo­cal baker.

“The po­lice fired in the air to calm the riot. Every­one dis­persed and the po­lice or­dered all shops to be closed,” said Gen­e­sis, who asked not to be iden­ti­fied by her sur­name for fear of reprisals. — AFP

SAN CRISTOBAL: Peo­ple protest on the “Tron­cal 5” road over the lack of cash as the new bank notes have not ap­peared, in San Cristobal, in Venezuela’s Tachira state yes­ter­day. — AFP

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