Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela's 100-bolivar note withdrawal causes chaos

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Media captionVenezuela hit by further uncertainty as 100-bolivar note is pulled

Venezuela's highest denomination banknote has ceased to be legal tender, in a move that has caused cash chaos and long queues at banks.

Protests against the move led to looting in parts of the country, with shops attacked and roads blocked.

Some cash machines on Thursday were still issuing the old 100-bolivar notes, hours before they expired.

President Nicolas Maduro said new higher-denomination bills would be fully distributed in January.

He has closed the borders with Brazil and Colombia until Sunday to stop "mafias" hoarding the currency abroad.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The sudden withdrawal of the 100-bolivar note has triggered protests throughout Venezuela
Image copyright AFP
Image caption The 100-bolivar note is worth just two US cents on the black market

Anger over the move led to skirmishes in six cities on Friday, the Associated Presss reported the authorities as saying, with 32 people being taken into custody and one injured.

The sense of frustration has been compounded because there has been no official explanation as to why bank branches throughout Venezuela do not yet appear to have the larger denomination bank notes intended to replace 100-bolivar notes.

The opposition argues the currency initiative is another sign that President Maduro is ruining the economy and must be ousted.

Venezuelans have been queuing outside banks after they were given 72 hours to exchange the 100-bolivar note for new larger denomination notes and coins.

The 100-bolivar note is worth just two US cents on the black market.

Venezuelans mock 'useless' banknote

What's behind the crisis in Venezuela?

Some people on Thursday still received the 100-bolivar notes when they withdrew money at ATMs, then immediately had to queue up again to re-deposit the soon-to-expire notes.

"I don't get the joke," office worker Yarelis Carrero, who lives in the capital Caracas, told the AFP news agency. "When you withdraw cash at the ATMs, they give you 100-bolivar bills. And you can't get the new ones inside the bank, either."

Another bank customer said no-one had seen the new bank notes yet. "A guy I know who works for an armoured truck company said even they haven't seen them. Pure lies!" Saul Bernal said.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Experts see little economic benefit in taking the note out of circulation

But President Maduro praised Venezuelans for their understanding in a televised address on Thursday.

"This is a big effort we're doing to tackle so many evils and tricks. We're burning the hands of the mafia," he said, quoted by Reuters news agency.

He said the new bills were already being distributed and would be fully circulated in January. However, the replacement bills have yet to be seen in the streets.

He also extended the border closure with Colombia and Brazil - in place since Tuesday - by another 72 hours.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Long queues formed outside banks as people tried to meet the deadline to exchange their notes

Central Bank data suggests there are more than six billion 100-bolivar notes in circulation, making up almost half of all currency.

Buying almost anything with cash means a dangerous exercise carting around hundreds or thousands of bank notes in a country where robbery and violent crime is rife, says the BBC's South America correspondent Wyre Davies.

President Maduro has blamed currency speculators and gangsters in neighbouring Colombia for inflation that has reached 500%.

Economic experts, however, say the measure to take the note out of circulation will have little positive effect on the country's chronic economic and political problems.

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