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.

Lissette González

Is a PhD sociologist and researcher at Instituto de Investigaciones Económicas y Sociales and Sociology Professor at Escuela de Ciencias Sociales, Universidad Católica Andrés Bello. Blogger and collaborator of SIC Semanal and