Venezuelan currency is nearly worthless

Venezuelan currency is nearly worthless

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"A basket of bolivars"

"Believe it or not" was a theme from "The Greatest American Hero" and believe it or not "a cup of coffee in Venezuela now costs one million bolivars".

Charismatic, populist President Hugo Chavez was adored by the poor for his socialist policies: community support programs, free health care and education and generally subsidized living.

But with it came deep corruption and nepotism, as well as the nationalism of assets, artificial subsidies and price controls.

Skilled managers of public utilities and the oil business were replaced with cronies, mismanagement set in, maintenance was not done, and when the oil price crashed in 2014, Venezuela's currency came crashing down with it.

When Mr. Chavez died and was replaced by his anointed successor Nicolas Maduro, he inherited a basket case and failed to manage the crisis.

Suddenly a formerly wealthy country was in freefall.

A woman holds a baby, while a young girl and a young boy stand next to her

PHOTO: Wisuris Mata Reyes, 22, and her three children. (ABC News: Niall Lenihan)


Hence, the situation that ordinary Venezuelans find themselves in: poor, hungry, desperate, and at high risk of being punished by the government for saying so.

The situation is so extreme that one interview-based study suggested Venezuelans lost an average of 11 kilograms in body weight in 2017 alone.

The phenomenon has been dubbed 'the Maduro diet' by the president's opponents who blame him for Venezuela's plight. Others say the figure is unreliable because it relies on interviews rather than a controlled weigh-in program.

Just up the road from Samil and his mango, single mother Wisuris Mata Reyes has several mouths to feed.

Her children — aged seven, five and one — are tiny for their age.

Some days they're lucky to get one meal because the cost of food is so high.

A serious looking teen girl weaving banknotes while a small girl looks on

PHOTO: Venezuelan bolivars are so worthless that Wisuris is using them to make handbags. (ABC News: Niall Lenihan )


The International Monetary Fund has predicted that hyperinflation in Venezuela may hit 10,000,000 percent this year.

The Maduro government has recently tightened currency controls which may prevent that mark from being hit, but either way, the local currency is already worth virtually nothing, making even the basics unaffordable.

"If I had to go and beg in the streets for food I'd do it," Wisuris says.

Venezuelan banknotes woven together

PHOTO: Venezuelan bolivars are so worthless that Wisuris has a better chance of earning an income by turning banknotes into handbags. (ABC News: Niall Lenihan)


As we talk, she makes a handbag on the table in front of us, calmly grabbing banknotes from a basket nearby, folding them neatly and weaving them together.

They're so valueless that she also has them hanging from the walls in the shape of folded fans as decorations.

She sells them to make a meager income — a stark symbol of the crisis that's gripping what was once the wealthiest country in Latin America.

'We spend every day looking for ways to solve our problems'

When I ask Anadelkis Navarro what it's like to be a mother who can't feed her family there's a long pause.

A Venezuelan woman looking off into the distance with a pensive expression

PHOTO: Anadelkis Navarro and her family are living in a slum near Caracas. (ABC News: Niall Lenihan)


Tears stream down her face as she tries desperately to compose herself.

"It's difficult?" I say softly.

"Si," she replies.

We're sitting in the family's tiny kitchen in a Caracas slum. Her husband and their three young children watch silently as we speak about the difficulties of daily life.

"Right now a wage is 40 thousand Bolivars a month," she explains. That's less than $10 AUD.

"And that's enough just to get one kilogram of meat plus maybe some rice or some spaghetti, but it won't last either a week or a month."

A man a woman, two little girls and a boy look through a barred window

PHOTO: The Navarro family are struggling with food shortages in a slum near Caracas. (ABC News: Niall Lenihan)

"Sometimes I feel like I'm collapsing together with my husband," she says of the effort to find enough food.

"It's the situation, the system. The fact that you have to depend on a bag that may or may not arrive every month. And how about the rest of the month? We spend every day looking for ways to solve our problems."

The bags, when they do come, contain things like spaghetti, sugar, rice, beans, oil and corn flour.

They're handed out by government-backed communal councils.

Information from ABC News

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