Venezuela de­lays re­mov­ing cur­rency bills amid protests

Mas­sive protests force Maduro to ex­tend use of 100 bo­li­var bills

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

With protests rock­ing his un­pop­u­lar gov­ern­ment, em­bat­tled Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro de­layed un­til Jan­uary 2 tak­ing Venezuela’s high­est de­nom­i­na­tion bill out of cir­cu­la­tion. The 100 bo­li­var bills would tem­po­rar­ily re­main le­gal ten­der, Maduro said Satur­day, but the bor­ders with Colom­bia and Brazil will re­main closed to hit what he claims are “mafias” hoard­ing Venezue­lan cash abroad in a US-backed 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 state 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.

A very 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 home­maker, told AFP.

Rivero said that she trav­eled 450 kilo­me­ters (280 miles) 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 50and 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 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 Mon­day.

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

In Guas­dal­ito, in the cen­tral-west­ern state of Apure, three state bank of­fices were torched, an in­ci­dent Maduro late Fri­day blamed on un­named op­po­si­tion politi­cians.

Venezuela econ­omy un­rav­el­ing

Maduro has presided over an un­rav­el­ing of Venezuela’s oil-rich econ­omy as crude prices have plunged. He and pre­de­ces­sor Hugo Chavez have made the econ­omy in­creas­ingly state-led. Now the im­port­de­pen­dent coun­try is des­per­ately short of food, medicine and ba­sic house­hold goods. A re­ces­sion driven by plung­ing prices for Venezuela’s cru­cial crude oil ex­ports has led to short­ages of food and medicine.

Cit­i­zens face long queues to buy ba­sic sup­plies and in­fla­tion has soared. Deadly ri­ots and loot­ing have bro­ken out over re­cent months. An­a­lysts have warned there is a risk of un­rest in Venezuela, which Hu­man Rights Watch says is in the grips of a “hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis.” Anti-gov­ern­ment protests in 2014 led to clashes that left 43 peo­ple dead.

— AFP

CARA­CAS: Bo­li­var­ian mili­tia mem­bers take part in a rally to com­mem­o­rate the an­niver­sary of the death of Lib­er­a­tor Si­mon Bo­li­var, in Cara­cas on Satur­day.

— AP

CARA­CAS: A man wears a red beret with the im­age of late Venezuela’s Pres­i­dent Hugo Chavez dur­ing a rally in Cara­cas on Satur­day.

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