Maduro delays withdrawal of banknote after protests

Venezuela president postpones abolition of 100 bolivar banknote amid protests and looting.

Venezuelan National Guards clash with demonstrators in La Fria
Venezuelan National Guards clash with demonstrators in La Fria [Carlos Eduardo Ramirez/Reuters]

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has suspended the elimination of the country’s largest denomination bill, which had sparked cash shortages and nationwide unrest.

Venezuelans were given 10 days to exchange the 100 bolivar bills at the central bank, but the government on Saturday postponed the decision for two weeks.

The 100 bolivar bills, officially out of use since Thursday and worth just 4 US cents at the black market currency rate, can now be used until January 2, Maduro said.

The surprise pulling of the 100 bolivar note from circulation on Thursday – before new larger bills were available – led to vast lines at banks, looting at scores of shops, anti-government protests and at least one death.

READ MORE: Cash chaos in Venezuela after banknote withdrawn

Maduro, speaking from the presidential palace, blamed a “sabotage” campaign by enemies abroad for the delayed arrival of three planes carrying the new 500, 2,000 and 20,000 bolivar notes.

Venezuela: Long queues at banks due to cash crisis

“One plane, contracted and paid for by Venezuela, was told in flight to change direction and go to another country,” he said, without specifying who had given the orders. “There’s another which was not given flyover permission.”

Many Venezuelans had found themselves without the means to pay for food, petrol or Christmas preparations in a country already reeling from a profound economic crisis.

About 40 percent of Venezuelans do not have bank accounts, and so cannot use electronic transactions as an alternative to cash.

Adding to the chaos, Venezuela has the world’s highest rate of inflation, meaning large bags of cash must be humped around to pay for basic items.

‘Stupid and destructive’

In the southern mining town of El Callao, a 14-year-old boy was shot dead during looting on Friday, authorities confirmed. An opposition legislator reported three deaths.

The Democratic Unity opposition coalition said the socialist leader should resign for incompetence and for inflicting yet more suffering on Venezuelans.

“We have a government utterly stupid and destructive in economic management, whose only goal is to keep power at whatever price,” said opposition leader Julio Borges.

Maduro had justified the 100 bolivar note’s elimination as a way of strangling mafia and smugglers on the frontier with Colombia.

READ MORE: Venezuela suspended from Mercosur

He has also closed border crossings with Colombia and Brazil until January 2.

Earlier on Saturday, about 400 people in western Tachira state jumped fences and defied security personnel to surge into Colombia in search of food and medicines, which are scarce in Venezuela, witnesses said.

Venezuelan women sell hair to buy food

In southern Bolivar state, people broke into dozens of shops and warehouses in various towns, witnesses and business leaders said. Authorities declared a curfew in Ciudad Bolivar and the state governor said 135 people had been arrested.

Security forces fired tear gas in Venezuela’s largest second city, Maracaibo, to stop looters, witnesses said. Some protesters burned 100 bolivar bills.

Addressing thousands of supporters at a rally in Caracas, Maduro blamed the opposition for stirring violence and said some members of the Justice First and Popular Will parties were arrested for colluding with mafias.

The 54-year-old successor to Hugo Chavez, whose popularity has plunged during three years of recession, says domestic political foes supported by the United States are sabotaging the economy to undermine his government.

Source: News Agencies