Loot­ing leaves stores in ru­ins in Venezuela’s Ci­u­dad Bo­li­var

Kuwait Times - - BUSINESS -

CI­U­DAD BO­LI­VAR, Venezuela: Crowds gath­ered Mon­day out­side the few su­per­mar­kets in Ci­u­dad Bo­li­var that sur­vived mas­sive loot­ing over the sud­den de­ci­sion to yank the most widely used cur­rency note from cir­cu­la­tion, as the city in Venezuela’s in­te­rior tried to re­turn to nor­mal­ity.

The week­end vi­o­lence left dozens of busi­nesses de­stroyed or dam­aged, and streets were still full of trash, rub­ble and burned mo­tor­cy­cles from the protests and loot­ing.

Hun­dreds of po­lice and sol­diers have been de­ployed to the streets of Ci­u­dad Bo­li­var, a river­side city of about 700,000 res­i­dents, but many stores re­mained closed as of mid­day due to fears of more loot­ing.

Aus­te­rio Gon­za­lez, pres­i­dent of the lo­cal Cham­ber of Com­merce and In­dus­try, es­ti­mated that about 80 per­cent of stores that sell food in the city were ran­sacked. He said those still stand­ing found large crowds out­side their doors Mon­day and were wait­ing for author­i­ties to guar­an­tee se­cu­rity be­fore open­ing.

More than 350 busi­nesses were looted be­tween Fri­day and Sun­day in Ci­u­dad Bo­li­var, ac­cord­ing to busi­ness sec­tor es­ti­mates, along with 200 more in seven south­east­ern ci­ties. Dozens of peo­ple were in­jured and four killed in the un­rest.

The busi­nesses tar­geted in­cluded su­per­mar­kets, liquor and hard­ware stores, auto deal­er­ships and shops sell­ing tires and car parts. Gon­za­lez said busi­ness lead­ers were talk­ing with re­gional author­i­ties about set­ting up spe­cial stor­age and dis­tri­bu­tion fa­cil­i­ties to re­duce crowd­ing at the stores that sur­vived.

Bo­li­var state Gov. Fran­cisco Ran­gel Gomez said Sun­day evening that 3,200 po­lice of­fi­cers were de­ployed to re­store or­der, and 262 peo­ple were ar­rested in the state. Gon­za­lez con­firmed that 700 mem­bers of the na­tional guard also ar­rived in Ci­u­dad Bo­li­var. Protests and loot­ing broke out in Ci­u­dad Bo­li­var and else­where over Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro’s sud­den de­ci­sion to scrap the 100 bo­li­var note, the largest and most widely used in Venezuela de­spite be­ing worth just a few U.S. cents at the black mar­ket rate.

The an­nounce­ment also touched off long bank lines, a surge in elec­tronic pay­ments and wide­spread fears by poorer peo­ple with no bank ac­counts and all their sav­ings in the doomed bills. Cash trans­ac­tions such as buy­ing food or ga­so­line be­came ex­tremely dif­fi­cult. Over the week­end Maduro an­nounced that the dead­line for pulling the 100 bo­li­var notes out of cir­cu­la­tion would be post­poned un­til Jan. 2 be­cause pur­ported sabo­teurs had pre­vented the ar­rival of three air­planes car­ry­ing newly printed, larger-de­nom­i­na­tion bills from abroad. He did not pro­vide de­tails about the al­leged plot.

A plane ar­rived Sun­day from Swe­den with 13.5 mil­lion new 500 bo­li­var notes, but it has not been an­nounced when they will en­ter cir­cu­la­tion. Maduro called the de­ci­sion to scrap the bill an eco­nomic tri­umph over the coun­try’s en­e­mies. In a na­tional broad­cast Sun­day the pres­i­dent said the ac­tion had flooded banks with cur­rency de­posited by Venezue­lans rac­ing to get rid of the pa­per bills while also dev­as­tat­ing Colom­bian-bor­der cur­rency traders he blames for the bo­li­var’s pre­cip­i­tous plunge in value against the US dol­lar.

Maduro also ex­tended through Jan. 2 the clo­sure of Venezuela’s bor­ders with Colom­bia and Brazil. Among those af­fected are about a hun­dred Brazil­ians who have been un­able to re­turn to their coun­try.

Venezuela has been wracked by an eco­nomic cri­sis with soar­ing in­fla­tion and short­ages of food and other com­mer­cial goods. Most econ­o­mists blame the woes on price con­trols and fall­ing prices for oil ex­ports, as well as heavy gov­ern­ment spend­ing and pro­duc­tion-crip­pling poli­cies that gave Venezue­lans lots of 100 bo­li­var notes but lit­tle to buy with them. — AP

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