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Venezuela’s president says cash crackdown a victory over foes

By on December 18, 2016

By Fabiola Sánchez

CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela’s president said Sunday that the sudden decision to scrap the country’s most-used currency bill was an economic triumph over the country’s enemies even as the government sent troops and police to cities where riots and looting broke out over the measure.

In a national radio and television broadcast, Nicolás Maduro said his abrupt action had flooded the country’s banks with currency deposited by Venezuelans racing to get rid of the paper bills while also devastating Colombian-border currency traders he blames for the bolivar’s precipitous plunge in value against “the criminal dollar.”

Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro greets supporters upon his arrival to a rally at Bolivar Avenue in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016. Maduro called for a pro-government rally as the country to give a tribute to the Venezuelan hero Simon Bolivar meanwhile the country is on edge over his so-far failed plan to introduce larger-denominated bills to fight soaring inflation. (Fernando Llano/AP)

Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro greets supporters upon his arrival to a rally at Bolivar Avenue in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Dec. 17, 2016. The country is on edge over his so-far failed plan to introduce larger-denominated bills to fight soaring inflation. (Fernando Llano/AP)

Last week’s sudden announcement annulling all 100-bolivar notes led to massive lines at banks, a dramatic spurt in electronic payment and widespread fear by poorer people with no bank accounts and all their savings in the doomed bills, whose value had already plunged to a few U.S. cents. Cash transactions such as buying food or gasoline became extremely difficult.

Maduro suddenly changed course late Saturday, announcing the 100-bolivar notes could be used until Jan. 2

Before that announcement riots and looting broke out in several cities and Maduro said Sunday more than 300 people had been detained, including several members of opposition parties.

He said it was meant to be “the final blow of Obama, a final blow to create chaos, violence, division.”

Most economists blame the country’s economic woes on price controls and falling prices for the country’s oil exports, as well as heavy government spending and production-crippling policies that gave Venezuelans lots of 100-bolivar notes but not enough to buy with them.

Maduro said he’d had to lift extend the life of the old currency notes because saboteurs had prevented the arrival of three airplanes carrying newly printed, larger-denomination bills from abroad. He didn’t give details about the plot.

Disturbances continued into Saturday evening in places such as Ciudad Bolívar, where officials banned motorcycles for 48 hours and restricted overnight car and pedestrian traffic. Bolivar state Gov. Francisco Rangel Gomez said 135 people had been arrested in his state.

Eight hundred police and troops were sent to the town of El Callao, where Mayor Coromoto Lugo said a youth was killed, 25 businesses were looted and 40 people were injured in the disturbances.

In the southwestern town of La Fria, officials said city hall was burned during rioting on Saturday.

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