Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuelans queue to change money as banknote is pulled

People line up to get into a Banco Mercantil branch in Caracas, Venezuela December 13, 2016. Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Venezuelans started queuing early in the morning on Tuesday

Venezuelans have been queuing at banks after they were given 72 hours to deposit or change 100-bolivar bills before they stop being legal tender.

President Nicolas Maduro announced on Sunday that the banknote, currently the country's highest-value note, would be pulled from circulation.

He said the move would combat cross-border smuggling and hoarding of the banknotes in neighbouring Colombia.

But many Venezuelans are angry they now face long queues.

Anger and frustration

Financial institutions were closed on Monday because it was a bank holiday so when banks opened on Tuesday morning long lines began to form almost immediately.

According to the central bank, there are more than six billion 100-bolivar notes in circulation, amounting to almost half of the country's currency.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption There are more than six billion 100-bolivar notes in circulation, the central bank says

Many Venezuelans fear that they risk losing their money if they do not manage to deposit the soon-to-be obsolete bills within the 72 hours allotted.

While that period will be followed by another 10-day grace period in which the 100-bolivar bills can be exchanged for new, higher denomination ones, this will only be possible at branches of Venezuela's central bank, of which there are few.

Sunday's surprise announcement by President Maduro was greeted by anger and mockery by many on social media.

Venezuela is in the midst of a severe economic crisis and analysts say the move is likely to further worsen the cash crunch the country is already experiencing.

But President Maduro argues it will put powerful cross-border smuggling rings, who he says hoard the high-denomination bills, out of business.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The queue snaked around the building in Caracas

He also ordered the closure of the border with Colombia to prevent the smuggled notes from being brought back into Venezuela.

Critics of the government have argued that, while this may constitute a temporary blow to the smugglers, they are likely to start hoarding the new higher-denomination notes due to be released from 15 December instead.

Many Venezuelans commented on Twitter under the hashtag #ColaBancaria (#BankQueue) that their lives seemed to have been reduced to endless queuing as chronic shortages of basic goods mean that a simple shop often turns into a day standing in line.

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