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Venezuelans protesting for lack of cash and new notes outside Venezuela’s Central Bank in Maracaibo city, Zulia State,  on December 16.
Venezuelans protesting for lack of cash and new notes outside Venezuela’s Central Bank in Maracaibo city, Zulia State,  on December 16.

Venezuela Cash Crisis Sparks Protests, Looting

Maduro’s measure has stoked anger among Venezuelans already weary of long lines for food and medicine amid product shortages and triple-digit inflation

Venezuela Cash Crisis Sparks Protests, Looting

Protests and looting broke out in parts of Venezuela on Friday due to a lack of cash after the socialist government suddenly pulled the nation's largest banknote from circulation in the midst of a brutal economic crisis.

An opposition legislator said there were three deaths amid violent scenes in the southern mining town of Callao—but there was no confirmation of that from the government, Reuters reported.

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.

Last weekend, Maduro gave Venezuelans three days to ditch the 100-bolivar bills, arguing that the measure was needed to combat mafias on the Colombia border despite warnings from some economists that it risked sparking chaos.

Opposition leaders said the move was further evidence he is destroying the OPEC nation's economy and must be removed.

Authorities have thwarted a referendum sought by the opposition against the leftist leader. That might enable him to complete a six-year term ending in early 2019, but increases the prospect of social unrest.

With new bills—originally due on Thursday—still nowhere to be seen, many Venezuelans were unable to fill their vehicles' fuel tanks to get to work, buy food or purchase Christmas gifts.

Adding to the chaos, many cash machines were broken or empty. And large lines formed outside the central bank offices in Caracas and Maracaibo where the 100-bolivar bills could still be handed over and deposited for a few days more.

Mockery

"This is a mockery," said bus driver Richard Montilva as he and several hundred others blocked a street outside a bank in the town of El Pinal in Tachira state near Colombia.

First Justice lawmaker Angel Medina said large numbers of shops had been ransacked, destroyed and burned in El Callao, with three people killed and many injured.

Speaking in general terms, Maduro condemned the violence around the country, and said two banks had been attacked by people linked to the opposition coalition.

He said the new bills would come into circulation soon, appealed for the population's "comprehension", and urged Venezuelans to use electronic transactions where possible.

About 40% of Venezuelans do not have bank accounts.

Outside the central bank in Caracas, thousands of Venezuelans lined up to swap the 100-bolivar bills before a final Tuesday deadline as National Guard soldiers kept watch.

Maduro's measure has stoked anger among Venezuelans already weary of long lines for food and medicine amid product shortages and triple-digit inflation.

He blames the crisis on an "economic war" waged against his government to weaken the bolivar currency and unseat him.

Critics scoff at that explanation, pointing instead to state controls and excessive money printing.

Giving Away Their Children

Practically the entire nation is too broke to eat, and several zoo animals have starved to death. Now Reuters reports that some parents are giving away their children they can no longer afford to feed or care for properly.

Mothers and fathers are leaving their children with neighbors who are in more fortunate circumstances, extended family members, or state agencies and charities, which report a noticeable increase in the number of incoming children. The news agency also learned of cases where infants had been abandoned in still-wealthy districts of other cities.

Economists predict a new currency crisis will make the situation even more dire. Interior Minister Nestor Reverol has cited what Francisco Toros, a journalist and political scientist, called a bizarre and outlandish conspiracy theory to justify the government’s demonetization strategy.

According to Reverol, says Toros: “More than 300 million of Venezuela’s highest-denomination bank notes have been ferried out of the country in recent months. Huge stacks of 100-bolivar bills now sit in warehouses throughout Central and Eastern Europe—Poland, Ukraine, Switzerland, Germany, the Czech Republic, Macedonia—all part of a devious plot hatched by the US Treasury Department.”

American officials, the minister stated, have been collaborating with international crime syndicates to stockpile bol?var, and the U.S. intends to buy the currency with dollars, but only once the Venezuelan regime has been overthrown.

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