Venezuelan Inflation Crisis Store Receipt Is Not Counting But Weighing
Figuring out scams to get dollars and then sell them for bolívars became hugely lucrative business for Venezuelans, setting off a feedback loop that drove the inflation rate higher and higher.
In one of Caracas richer neighbourhoods, the owner of a tiny kiosk selling newspapers, cigarettes and snacks told the Washington Post that every evening he quietly stuffs a plastic bag full of the day’s earnings, around 100,000 bolívars (about ￡42) in notes of 10, 20, 50 and 100 bolívars.
Venezuela has one of the highest crime rates in the world, and he said carrying that much cash frightens him.
"All of Caracas is unsafe," the 42-year-old told the newspaper, opting not to give his name.
His best-selling item is cigarettes, he said, which have climbed in price from 250 bolívars to 2,000 bolívars a pack — at least 20 bills.
The shrinking value of the currency has meant that withdrawing the equivalent of ￡5 from an ATM produces a fistful of more than 100 bills.
Some ATMs now need to be refilled every three hours, because the machines can only hold so much cash.
This means there are often a limited number of functioning ATMs in Caracas, and long queues to withdraw money.
"Electronic payment is increasingly common in the country," Henkel Garcia, director of the Venezuelan economic think tank Econométrica, told the Washington Post.
"The use of online payments is likely to have soared," he said.
But it is expensive for small businesses to buy and set up credit-card machines.
Mr Maduro, who has largely continued the socialist policies of his predecessor, blamed the situation on an "economic war" waged by his opponents in the business community and in the United States.
But, in a sign his government recognises the severity of the problem,
he recently announced the issue of larger-denomination bills, expected in January.
The notes are reportedly set to start at 500 bolivars and reach 20,000 bolivars.
Until the notes are issued, however, the Venezuelan people are poorer than ever, while the country is awash with cash.
Bremmer Rodrigues, who runs a bakery on the outskirts of Caracas, said his family are at a loss over what to do with their bags of bills.
Every day his business takes in hundreds of thousands of bolívar, he said, which he hides around his office until packing them up in boxes to deposit at the bank.
He said if someone looked in on him, he might be mistaken for a drug dealer.
"I feel like Pablo Escobar," the 25-year-old told Bloomberg.
"It’s a mountain of cash, every day more and more."