You can't get $1 out of a Venezuelan bank

Venezuela's economy on the brink of collapse

Four hours. Four banks. Six cents.

This specific was a typical day in Caracas, Venezuela, capital of the earth’s most miserable economy.

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In most of the earth, getting a little money out of the bank will be an errand, something forgettable. In Venezuela, for millions of people, This specific will be complicated, tedious along with also surreal, or just impossible.

I moved here a year along with also a half ago to cover the country’s economic crisis as a freelance journalist. I knew how bad things were, yet I never imagined the constant daily struggle to achieve even the simplest of tasks.

As Venezuela has sunk to brand-new depths, prices have skyrocketed, along with also the currency, the bolivar, has become next to worthless. Supermarkets along with also banks have become scenes of confusion along with also chaos: Are they open? Do they have money or food? How much can I get?

Related: Venezuela will be losing its teachers

Inflation will be so rampant — some experts say This specific ran above 4,000% last year — that will This specific has devoured people’s salaries.

As I write This specific, one dollar fetches about 191,000 bolivars, according to the black market exchange rate that will everyone uses. (Nobody trusts the overvalued official rate because the government has lost credibility among ordinary Venezuelans along with also in international markets that will determine exchange rates.)

A year ago, one dollar fetched 3,100 bolivars. The bolivar has lost 98% of its value since then. Even on the day I reported This specific story, January 11, a dollar might have gotten me about 151,000 bolivars within the morning.

Venezuela’s banking authority tells banks every month how much customers can withdraw at one time, according to an official statement. yet the authority doesn’t make that will amount public.

In August, Venezuelan media outlets reported that will the authority set the limit at 10,000 bolivars per customer. Press officers declined to elaborate on the rules. The Bank Association of Venezuela, which represents bank branches, closed its press office six months ago.

As the currency loses value, the banks themselves have become their own scenes of confusion. Customers wait in long lines. Some banks don’t offer cash along with also allow only electronic transactions.

So how hard will be This specific to get a dollar’s worth of bolivars?

I tried. along with also failed.

Related: Venezuela oil production plummets

The first bank: ‘Minimum an hour’ wait

I got to my first bank at 9:30 a.m. Dozens of people were lining up in front. People wait for cash here like Americans queue up to buy lottery tickets when the jackpot soars.

Inside, the a few ATMs were deserted, a sign that will they were out of cash. The only option was to withdraw money with the bank teller. I quickly counted 21 people in line along with also just one teller working.

“This specific’s minimum an hour waiting,” the last man in line told me as I approached.

I decided to try my luck elsewhere.

This specific problem has exploded in recent months, yet This specific developed over years.

Venezuela was once Latin America’s wealthiest nation, yet This specific was plagued by extreme inequality. A socialist leader, Hugo Chavez, promised to fix the country’s deep disparity between rich along with also poor when he became president in 1999.

Chavez ramped up government spending, providing housing along with also services for millions of poor Venezuelans. yet critics along with also economists said for years that will the spending was irresponsible along with also unsustainable.

Chavez died in 2013, along with also his hand-picked successor, Nicolas Maduro, took over. Maduro maintained socialist policies, even while government coffers drained. Food shortages along with also electric blackouts became more common.

The country spiraled into economic along with also social unrest following a plunge in oil prices in 2014. Venezuela has more oil than any some other nation on earth, yet oil will be the nation’s only source of revenue. Government mismanagement along with also widespread corruption have caused oil production to plummet.

To patch the inflation problem, the Venezuelan government has repeatedly increased the monthly minimum wage, yet prices have risen faster, along with also the bolivar has plunged further. along with also This specific got worse over the holidays.

chart venezuela cash crisis

Related: ‘Death spiral’: Venezuela’s inflation soars beyond 4,000%, expert says

The second bank: ‘This specific’s nonsense!’

I walk a few blocks to a second bank. that will I could find another one so quickly will be a luxury of Caracas. In rural parts of Venezuela, cash will be a necessity, along with also banks are far apart.

At the second bank, the ATMs were already out of cash, along with also This specific wasn’t even 10 a.m. Frustration set in. Only 10 people were waiting for the tellers, so I decided to line up.

Gustavo Vasquez stood next to me in line. He told me he only needed 30,000 bolivars, or about 18 cents, for a CLAP bag: a sack of food along with also toiletries the government gives out to the poorest Venezuelans each month at heavily subsidized prices.

Recently, CLAP bags have gotten smaller or been delayed as more Venezuelans slip into poverty along with also as the government runs out of money to import essential goods.

among the many who currently rely on food handouts, Vasquez was not on benefits for most of his life. He used to have a full-time job along with also a quiet life on his pension. yet inflation made This specific impossible for him to live off his income, along with also government programs like CLAP are currently a lifeline for him along with also his family.

Related: Venezuela defaults, moving deeper into crisis

Critics argue that will the CLAPs are used as a political weapon by Maduro to force people to vote for him. yet the ethics of political aid were not on Vasquez’s mind. He just wanted to get cash so he could pay for the vital handout along with also eat.

“Here, they only allow [you] to take out 5,000 per day,” Vasquez told me. “What should I do? Open an account in six different banks? This specific’s nonsense!”

I managed to reach the front of the line, yet the teller said I had to present a check to withdraw money. She wouldn’t let me use my debit card. Increasingly annoyed, I left the second bank along with also passed two others before surrendering along with also heading home to pick up my checkbook.

Related: Russia extends financial lifeline to Venezuela

I waited four hours to get 6 cents. I spent This specific all in one place.

This specific was noon. I had been looking for cash for more than two hours. I returned to the first bank I tried.

I waited another hour in line before reaching the teller with my checkbook in hand. I noticed how everyone in line was still calm along with also silent, as if general resignation had forced these people to simply accept the situation.

Social rage exploded last year in Venezuela when hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of Caracas for more than 0 days to protest improvements to the constitution along with also to demand elections along with also humanitarian aid.

The protests were quashed by government forces. More than 0 people lost their lives, according to state-run media. Police fired rubber bullets along with also shot tear gas. Protesters lobbed Molotov cocktails. A gas mask became a daily requirement for my reporting.

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currently This specific seems that will the economic situation will be so bad that will the average Venezuelan will be too busy scrambling for cash along with also food to take to the streets Just as before.

At 1:23 p.m., I finally presented my check along with also got the hard-earned cash: 10,000 bolivars, or 6 cents.

Yarmira de Motos, the teller, informed me that will the bank manager establishes every morning how much each customer can withdraw based on how much money will be delivered by the Venezuelan Central Bank.

just for This specific reason, some banks may allow 5,000-, 10,000- or even 30,000-bolivar withdrawals depending on the day. This specific’s a total gamble.

With my 10,000 bolivars in hand four hours later, I met a friend for a coffee. My cappuccino cost 35,000 bolivars.

sy88pgw (Caracas) First published January 17, 2018: 8:13 AM ET

You can't get $1 out of a Venezuelan bank

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