How Cadivi Stole Christmas

Add this one to the very long list of things we can blame Cadivi for: my seven year old son finding out who really buys Baby Jesus’s presents


It’s strange to reflect that exchange controls have been in place for 13 years now. My older son (he’s 15) almost can’t believe there was a time when it didn’t exist. El cupo, (you know, the cut-rate dollar allotment the government allows each individual ) has been a family issue for years: the kids wanted video games — Cadivi. I wanted a kindle — Cadivi. My cell phone got stolen — Cadivi.

Negotiating over how to split my yearly allotment of foreign currency was just part of family life for us. Not an easy task. But very normal for my children, who have a hard time understanding that in other countries people don’t have limits and can buy as much of whatever they want as they can afford, wherever they want.

For them that’s like “The Twilight Zone,” it’s just that they don’t realize that they’re the ones who actually live in it.

It is understandable: one of them was only two when the exchange control was put in place in in 2003, and the other one was born five years into the Cadivi era. For them, this is just how the world works.

Back when the exchange control system was launched, I really didn’t care too much. We were still overwhelmed by the paro petrolero; we faced food and gas shortages for the first time, the university was almost paralyzed for nearly two months and a lot of money was lost.

We’d just arrived in Caracas with no savings and were struggling to get settled. Cadivi was pretty far down on our list of concerns. Also, it wasn’t something new: I remembered RECADI from my teenage 80’s memories, plus the currency control during the 90’s. It was hard to see it as a big deal at all.

In 2004 Cadivi set an annual “cupo” for travelers and for online shopping, 3 thousand bucks each. I’m a university professor, travelling abroad isn’t the kind of leisure I can usually afford. For me, Cadivi always meant the cupo electrónico: a way of purchasing stuff at a cheaper price than in Caracas stores. I have a lot of family in the US, so I didn’t even pay for international delivery: anytime someone was traveling to Caracas, I bought what I needed and sent them my packages. My stuff afterwards arrived home safely in their suitcases.

In 2005, the cupo for online shopping was reduced to $2,500, but it still was plenty of money; I don’t think I ever spent the whole amount in one year. During those times we bought the first Wii that Baby Jesus brought my older son, and also in 2007 when I was pregnant, I got everything I needed for the new baby.

But in 2008 this changed. The government took the Cadivi electronic cupo down to $400 per year. It became harder to buy the electronics and toys the kids (and us) wanted. But, at that time, everybody contributed with their credit card allotments, their grandparents, my ex-husband, or maybe one of us had the chance to eventually travel abroad. Baby Jesus kept bringing nice presents every Christmas until 2014.

From 2015, the new exchange control rules provided that only credit cards issued by state-owned banks would have the privilege to be used for travelling or online shopping. I applied for a credit card in one of those banks, and never got an answer. So, kiss both the cupo electrónico and foreign travel goodbye.  

As December neared I asked my little boy what he was asking for in his letter to Baby Jesus. And he wanted a Wii U. His older brother (who is old enough to know who buys those presents) told him Baby Jesus also is having shortage problems, but he didn’t believe that. Baby Jesus is God; he can get whatever toy he wants.

But it was a present I just couldn’t afford. When I finally took my vacation, my first task was a toy-store tour. Toys were pricey, and scarce too. Finally, with the money I could spend, I bought a cute remote-control car and a spider-man skate board. That was to be his loot on Christmas morning.

My son wasn’t pleased when he found out he didn’t get what he asked for. He tried his new toys, but later, when I was making lunch, he came into the kitchen and said “we need to talk” followed by “tell me the truth”.

I knew exactly what would come next. His age of innocence was over.

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  1. Ya que aunque han puesto este artículo en la esquina superior izquierda para darle más visibilidad nadie se anima a escribir nada, diré tan solo que, en conjunto, estas entradas sobre el Cadivi me han parecido una buena serie de artículos. Aunque cuentan casos personales, son perfectamente generalizables e ilustran muy bien los resultados de las políticas erradas y delirantes de un chavismo que quiere ocuparse de todos los aspectos de la sociedad venezolana pero fracasa estrepitosamente en todos ellos.

    Gracias una vez más por su trabajo

    • Gracias por la cortesía de venir y dejar un comentario por acá! Creo que el tono de esta nota, que no se centra como las otras en los efectos económicos o distorsiones que ha generado el control de cambios en los precios, en los incentivos para trabajar u otros, hace más difícil el comentario. Una pequeña historia, íntima, no parece el mejor lugar para criticar a Cadivi o a sus beneficiarios. Creo que por eso el silencio.
      Gracias por leer, saludos!

      • No hay de qué y sí, estamos de acuerdo aunque parece que al final sí que se animaron a hablar por aquí.

        Le dejo con un tweet excelente de Henkel García que acabo de leer “Siembra tu comida, genera tu electricidad, garantiza tu seguridad como puedas, etc. Estamos a cuenta propia”. Supuestamente Venezuela es un país socialista pero en realidad cada uno se las tiene que apañar como pueda ante el fracaso del gobierno. La contradicción es brutal.

        • Es el sálvese quien pueda. Muy triste, e injusto con los que menos tienen… y que creían que el chavismo era el camino para estar en mejores condiciones. Saludos!

  2. Cadivi must be the biggest Thievery Machine ever invented. It’s such a blatant Robbery Machine, and some people still don’t get it. I mean it’s nothing but Robo Descarado. Obvious. Evident. Even for those without any education or access to the internet. It’s even worse than PDVSA or Corpoelec. Billions stolen under “el pueblo” ‘s noses every week. Even a Margarita fisherman, or any construction worker should know by now.

    Only in Venezuela. Such an aberrant, senseless system would not have lasted 1 month in any other country. Except Millions of Venezuelans get residue money kick-backs from the monumental Scam. And they like it.

    • Sorry to digress Chamocandela, Cadivi was not the largest money thievery machine, but only a distraction of many, to allow the master to actually plunder big time in the back ground.

    • Once the exchange and prices control overtook our economy, it was too difficult not to get involved in that system in one way or the other. Prices in our stores are higher than overseas because no one buys or sells anything at the official rate; at the same time, salaries loose purchasing power because our economy each year produces less. A nightmare, and everyone trying to survive. And Cadivi is a resource for those who can take some cheap dolars in any way.

      • I guess nobody thinks it is normal, but there is no other legal way to get dollars. And the black market price doesn’t reflect the real value of our bolivars, either. Before Cadivi we were free to buy online or travel, it was our money and we decided how to spend it. But those time are long gone.

    • And that’s also not the right way to put it, since if you used the black market, you were actually committing a crime.

      The legal way to get dollars was CADIVI. It not only created the incentives. It was actually mandatory.

      • I think this is a key point that didn’t get enough attention in the posts.
        You could be a perfectly rational person, that perfectly understands the consequences of the monster. But if you wanted to travel overseas, you had to get involved with it. You could be perfectly conscious that the government was subsidizing your trip to Rome, Paris, NY or Tokyo; at the expense of properly developing the health or education system of the country. But if you were a law-abiding citizen you had to live with it. Period. Buying free-market dollars would mean to actually become a criminal, and the dollars you didn’t get would probably go to Diosdado’s pockets anyway, not to develop anything.
        Disgusting. Fucked up, really.

    • “everybody, not just the well-connected, participated in some small part to bankrupting the country”
      That is incorrect.
      Only the opportunistic people that abused the system and made money out of it. Which I think was a lot.
      But others were just getting Dollars to travel abroad, etc. A legitimate need.

  3. Take Take time to teach your kids a lesson that not everything they want they can get. That will pave the way for when he asks for the Ipad.

    • Oh, you can just read me answering to your comment, isn’t that nice? I know, I truly know what is going on in this country, obviously I can’t get everything I want for christmas. At my young age (15 years), I know what it’s like to earn your own money to get the console you want. And many other teens and even kids have to work to be paid the minimum wage that is 16k bolivars, to afford for a living where only the food costs 100k bolivars.

      So I don’t need to be “teached” not to expect an IPad to magically appear, I know that won’t happen unless the economy grows as a whole. And judging by how things are right now, that won’t happen in a long time.

      I suppose that PS4 will have to wait until I have worked for several years… I understand how things are, believe me when I say that…

      (BTW I’m the older son)

      • Leonardo, I understand what you are saying.
        But my comment wasn’t at all about the economy.
        It was about life. We do not always get what we want.
        Ipads, xboxes, ps4…they are all illusions. Invest your money in books, your time in learning something useful and going outside. Play some sport. I know, it is not safe. Let me tell you, it never is.
        And that is life.

  4. If in ancient times if you were a roman citizen and you accepted to recieve your allotment of free bread or to enjoy the mass circus entertaiments given with the patronage of the emperors you virtually became an accomplice of their corruption . The romans had their bread and circus , we had cadivi/cencoex . ………history repeats itself again and again….!!


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