SICAD has just been rolled out as a panacea for foreign currency scarcity in Venezuela. But if descriptions of the bureaucratic mess involved in obtaining dollars at auction are any indication, chances are SICAD won’t even begin to cover demand. Which is a crying shame because the alternative – the very illegal black market – is getting riskier and riskier, to the point that its most visible icon recently devolved into an outright salad-themed Ponzi scheme.
Ever since the Illícitos Cambiarios Law was approved in 2010, buying, selling, and even mentioning the price of black market dollars in Venezuela has become a crime punishable by up to 7 years in prison. The answer to this legal gag on all things dollar-related was a flourishing black market, which has spawned its own little sub-culture, jargon (Lechuga Americana, Lechuga Europea, Lechugas en hojas frescas, Lechugas Amazónicas), code-words (1000 a 25. Transfer. Norte. Inbox me.), and a host of anonymous Twitter accounts that helpfully quoted daily reference prices, which, as we established, is illegal.
Among these selfless guiding voices, LechugaVerde.com quickly became the go-to online reference for anyone wishing to consult exchange rates.
Not content with its celebrity status as the black-market Yoda, LechugaVerde.com eventually got in on the action, transacting dollars directly. Except that, for some reason, dollars sold through LechugaVerde.com always came at bargain prices, with buyers ecstatic at what great deals they’d found.
Said customers were assured that their leafy greens would be deposited in a bank account no later than four weeks from the time of purchase, a promise that was initially fulfilled. What produce shoppers didn’t know is that their money was being scammed out of other unsuspecting salad-lovers. The waiting periods between purchases and deposits increased from weeks to months. Eventually, the Ponzi scheme became unsustainable and LechugaVerde.com imploded in a slimy, green mess.
As of March 8, the website, Facebook page, and Twitter accounts have all been taken down, and all that is left of LechugaVerde are mounting numbers of fraud complaints on the twittersphere from angry, lettuce-less victims.
The saddest part is that LechugaVerde and its crooks will probably never be brought to justice. Scammed folks will most likely never see their money back, since what the victims were doing (consulting dollar prices online) is itself a crime.
It’s sort of how you could never take your drug dealer to court for selling you sub-par weed. As the old saying goes, if you outlaw currency trading, only outlaws will trade currency.Caracas Chronicles is 100% reader-supported. Support independent Venezuelan journalism by making a donation.