HAVANA TIMES — Venezuelans and foreigners, who have bank accounts in this country, can no longer take out more than 40,000 Bolivars (around 4 USD at the street rate) in cash (a bit more or less depending on the bank) and this is no longer news. Amidst this wave of inflation, which seems unstoppable at the minute, any transaction exceeds 30,000 Bolivars. But, you can only normally take out 10,000 out of an ATM, that is to say, the price of a kilo of cornflour which we use to cook traditional arepas.
If not having cash in Caracas can bring about a lot of setbacks, in the rest of Venezuela’s states, and even more so in smaller towns, it’s a real torment. Bank branches don’t exist or are almost absent, ATMs even more so. The majority of sellers (informal or legal) don’t have a retail outlet (a machine to accept cards), what do we do? How can you buy things for at least a week if the cash you can get from a day of waiting in a line at a bank only covers the price of two or three products. It’s simple. Pay a percentage to sellers who do have card machines and, miraculously, enough cash.
A few months ago, the percentage to pay for a “cash advance” was 5%. With the non-official dollar going up, this percentage went up to 10%, then 12% and is now about 15%. That is to say, in order to buy a couple of kilos of rice or flour from an informal seller, we need about 24,000 or 25,000 Bolivars instead of 20,000. The other option is to travel until you can find a bank branch or an ATM; but that’s another story. While the price of urban transport has been kept at 150 Bolivars in Caracas, this has been changing in the rest of the country’s states. For example in Lara, transport drivers quite simply charge whatever they feel like. 300 or 400 Bolivars for a journey a couple of kilometers long. 800 or 1000 Bolivars for a 15 minute trip to the center of the state.
When you calculate how many times you have to travel to the center to get the money you need to buy things for a week, it turns out that its better to pay the “tax” to these informal banks, who are owned by merchants a lot of the time.
As if this bank freeze, which the government has imposed since a couple of years ago, wasn’t enough, theft of phone and internet cables has been growing in the past year. I don’t know if the stolen internet cables end up with raw material recyclers or whether they will give them a better use, but the truth of the matter is that thanks to this new “self-management” system, businesses who don’t have a card machine have increased, and of course this has contributed to hiking up the price of “cash advances” from those that do.
I can already see a small wave of inspectors who will fine and even seize businesses from small sellers who take part in this authorized scam or not. Journalists will write some articles talking about this subject and about how the president will impose harsh sanctions on those who rob money from the people. They’ll blame the economic war, which will be like the Cuban equivalent of the Economic Blockade, (setting aside the big differences).
We already know what the reality is.