Venezuela Deploys National Guard As Venezuelans Protest Worthless Cash
Broken showcases are seen after a shoe shop was looted in Maracaibo, Venezuela
Waving the now-worthless 100-bolivar bills, pockets of demonstrators blocked roads, demanded that stores accept the cash, and cursed President Nicolas Maduro in a string of towns and cities around Venezuela, witnesses said.
A man holds a bone and a placard that reads 'Maduro: communist, unhappy,
damn. Resign, now', in front of a pole covered with 100-bolivar bills during a
protest in El Pinal, Venezuela, December 16, 2016.
Waving the now-worthless 100-bolivar bills, pockets of demonstrators blocked roads, demanded that stores accept the cash, and cursed President Nicolas Maduro in a string of towns and cities around Venezuela, witnesses said. Dozens of shops were looted in various places.
People take pictures next to a pole covered with 100-bolivar bills during a
protest in El Pinal.
An opposition legislator said there were three deaths amid violent scenes in the southern mining town of Calla.
A man burns a 100-bolivar bill during a protest in El Pinal.
The riots were quickly put down, however, when National Guard troops were deployed to put down the unrest that broke out as far west as the Colombian border as well as smaller towns in the east, the WSJ reports. While many have speculated that things couldn't possibly get worse in Venezuela, they did over the past few days as the collapsing, cash-based economy suddenly finds itself without cash, worthless as it may be (one US dollar is worth between 2,500 and 4,500 Bolivars in the black market), and now with only nine days to go before Christmas, Venezuelans grappling with a collapsing economy and hyperinflation are also left without money. Only the Central Bank now accepts the remaining bill, and it will only do so until Tuesday at which point the paper money will be worth less than toilet paper, which Venezuela infamous does not have.
“Maduro is making a mockery of the people, and he has destroyed Christmas for all Venezuelans,” said Desiré Chávez, a 33-year-old clothing vendor in Maracaibo who had accepted the 100-bolivar notes until Thursday. “Now I don’t know what I’ll do because that cash is useless and my kids are hungry.”
As the local population fumes, the central bank office didn’t open Friday to facilitate the exchange, as officials had promised. Troops turned away nearly 1,500 people who had lined up starting Thursday night to turn in their useless bills, prompting angry mobs to block traffic and riot. Dozens were arrested.
Venezuelan National Guard members control the crowd as people queue to deposit
their 100 bolivar notes, near Venezuela's Central Bank in Caracas.
Unlike India, where the local population was at least granted a two month onboarding period to convert their old cash into new bills - which has also led to mass confusion and a sharp economic slowdown - Maduro gave his countrymen only days to turn in the 100-bolivar notes, which until this week was the nation’s most widely used bank note.
“There have and will be difficulties while we overcome this situation,” Mr. Maduro said in a televised speech Friday. He called the measure necessary to combat alleged currency speculators in neighboring Colombia and elsewhere that he blames for his country’s economic troubles. “I appreciate the people of Venezuela’s understanding, awareness, all of its support.”
Venezuelan National Guard members control the crowd as people queue to deposit
their 100 bolivar notes, outside Venezuela's Central Bank in Caracas
Making matters worse, the new 500-bolivar bills that the president said would circulate this week have yet to be distributed, causing panic as more than a third of Venezuela’s 30 million people lack a bank account. Those lucky enough to line up at the central bank headquarters in the capital, Caracas, were able to at least deposit their money. They were given IOUs and told they could pick up the new bills when they are ready.
It is unclear when that may be, meaning the vast majority of those Venezuelans with savings don't even have an official currency to show for it, but merely an unofficial promise of repayment from the government. More skeptical readers may view this as a clear overture for full-blown cash confiscation.
“I don’t have a bank account, and they need to tell me what I do with this money,” said Ana Garza, a 58-year-old cake vendor from a Caracas slum who had been waiting since 5:30 a.m. in a line that stretched 18 city blocks on Friday. She only had money for a bus ride because no one is accepting the 100-bolivar bills anymore.
The anger was palpable: “I don’t have words for this measure from Maduro,” griped bus driver Ricardo Salas, 54. “How do you get rid of these bills without the new ones arriving? Buying groceries is going to be horrible.” Assuming there are groceries: as a result of Venezuela's hyperinflation and economic collapse, most supply chains no longer operate, and those businesses which still function do so increasingly solely on a barter basis.
There was some good news: the WSJ reported that on Thursday, the central bank received at least one shipment of new 500-bolivar bills, but it would take weeks for enough 500-bolivar bills to be available to alleviate the scarcity of cash. Without money, residents in the southeastern state of Bolivar blocked the only major highway in the region that connects the country to Brazil. Nearly 40 businesses, mostly grocery stores, were ransacked around the state.
Stacks of 100 bolivar notes are seen in a plastic crate at a stall in a street market
near Venezuela's Central Bank in Caracas
Faced with daily violent protests, the government was just as unhappy as the general population: “this has gone from a riot over discontent and hunger to vandalism,” said Erick Leiva, head of a local business chamber.
Maduro this week also "temporarily" closed the Venezuela's border with neighboring Colombia and Brazil, supposedly to crack down on currency speculation along the border, which he blames for the free-falling value of the bolivar, in order to deflect attention from the real cause of Venezuela's economic collapse.
The desperation was palpable for people like Daniel Morales, 28, a street vendor in Maracaibo.
“I have an 11-day-old baby and I haven’t been able to buy diapers, nor milk,” he said. All of the bills that Mr. Morales had taken to the central bank branch to exchange added up to 20,000 bolivars, or less than $9. A pack of diapers costs more.
What is surprising, is that despite Venezuela's complete economic collapse, and now effective demonetization, the country remains technically solvent and continues to pay its foreign creditors; we also find it surprising that despite Venezuela's de facto military regime - as we reported previously Maduro is now just a front for the army's control of the country - the population has shown tremendous patience and has so far refused to revolt, despite having little left to lose.
Some poor Venezuelan parents give away children amid deep crisis
By Girish Gupta and Mircely Guanipa
PUNTO FIJO, Venezuela (Reuters) - Struggling to feed herself and her seven children, Venezuelan mother Zulay Pulgar asked a neighbor in October to take over care of her six-year-old daughter, a victim of a pummeling economic crisis.
The family lives on Pulgar's father's pension, worth $6 a month at the black market rate, in a country where prices for many basic goods are surpassing those in the United States.
"It's better that she has another family than go into prostitution, drugs or die of hunger," the 43-year-old unemployed mother said, sitting outside her dilapidated home with her five-year-old son, father and unemployed husband.
With average wages less than the equivalent of $50 a month at black market rates, three local councils and four national welfare groups all confirmed an increase in parents handing children over to the state, charities or friends and family.
The government does not release data on the number of parents giving away their children and welfare groups struggle to compile statistics given the ad hoc manner in which parents give away children and local councils collate figures.
Still, the trend highlights Venezuela's fraying social fabric and the heavy toll that a deep recession and soaring inflation are taking on the country with the world's largest oil reserves.
Showing photos of her family looking plumper just a year ago, Pulgar said just one chicken meal would now burn up half its monthly income. Breakfast is often just bread and coffee, with rice alone for both lunch and dinner.
Nancy Garcia, the 54-year-old neighbor who took in the girl, Pulgar's second-youngest child, works in a grocery store and has five children of her own. She said she could not bear to see Pulgar's child going without food.
"My husband, my children and I teach her to behave, how to study, to dress, to talk... She now calls me 'mom' and my husband 'dad,'" said Garcia.
Every day at the social services center in Carirubana, which oversees Pulgar's case, more than a dozen parents plead for help taking care of their children in this isolated, arid corner of Venezuela with a shaky water supply and little food.
Last year, the rate was around one parent a day.
"The principal motive now is lack of food," said Maria Salas, director of the small and understaffed center, echoing colleagues at two other welfare groups interviewed by Reuters elsewhere in the country.
Salas added that her organization - the Council of Protection for Children and Adolescents - lacked the resources to deal with the situation and had asked authorities for help, even just a dining room, but had no luck.
Not far from Salas' office, long supermarket lines under a hot sun help explain why parents are finding life so tough, a scene repeated across the country of 30 million people.
Venezuelans suffer shortages of the most basic goods, from food to medicine. Millions are going hungry amid triple-digit inflation and a nearly 80 percent currency collapse in the last year.
The government blames the United States and Venezuela's opposition, yet most economists pin the responsibility on socialist policies introduced by former president Hugo Chavez, which his successor Nicolas Maduro has doubled down on even as oil prices - the economy's lifeblood - plunged.
Venezuela's Information Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
The Caracas municipality of Sucre, which encompasses Petare, one of the region's largest and poorest slums, has seen an "exponential" increase in parents needing help, say officials.
"The parents come in crying," said Sucre welfare director Angeyeimar Gil.
"It's very dramatic to see parents' pain when saying they can no longer look after their child," she said. "We're seeing a lot of cases of malnutrition and children that come to hospital with scabies."
Two-thirds of 1,099 households with children in Caracas, ranging across social classes, said they were not eating enough in a survey released last week by children's' rights group Cecodap.
In some cases, parents are simply abandoning their kids.
Last month, a baby boy was found inside a bag in a relatively wealthy area of Caracas and a malnourished one-year-old boy was found abandoned in a cardboard box in the eastern city of Ciudad Guayana, local media reported.