I was in the departures lounge at Maiquetía Airport a few weeks ago, three bills burning a hole in my pocket. They were those shiny new Bs.10,000 bills —they’d just come out— and the only thing I knew for sure I had to spend them right away: the next time I came, they’d buy much less for sure.

I have kids, so the obvious thought was chocolate. Venezuela doesn’t produce much that you’d want to take with you back to Canada anymore, but when it comes to fancy chocolate, well, you can’t really do much better.

But these three bills in my hand, they’re worth $3,000 to someone.

I start scanning the shops. They sell this super-fancy Del Rey chocolates. 72%, luscious, top quality chocolate. I do the mental math — Bs. 6,000 for one, that’s like $2 at the black market rate at the time. Hell, I could bring back 5 of these, for $10. A steal!

Then…I catch myself and realize, wait a minute: I’m about to spend $3,000 for five bars of chocolate…and I’m happy about it!

Now, ok, I know. 30,000 bolos isn’t really worth $3,000 to me. I’m not an enchufado, I don’t have the government contacts it takes to get my bolivars recognized at the insane —insane— Bs10=$1 official rate.

But these three bills in my hand, they’re worth $3,000 to someone. Probably someone right here, in this departure lounge, waiting to hop onto the same Miami-bound plane I’m about to board.

I scan the crowd, trying to guess whom. There’s the family, with the chubby girl, maybe 6, in the Minnie Mouse tank top…could it be them? Maybe not. There’s the guy, mid 30s, expensive looking jacket, tapping furiously into his shiny new iPhone 7. More likely.

I scan through the crowd again as I rifle through the three bills in my pocket once more. Someone here. Someone here can take the three pieces of paper I’m about to trade for five chocolate bars and turn them into a down payment for a car.

I go back to that moment again and again. We’re so used to the monetary insanity in Venezuela, it’s sort of faded into the background. It’s become one of those things we “accept”, where acceptance is just a word for things-we-know-are-crazy-but-can’t-do-anything-about.

Those Guardias Nacionales you see out in protests shooting tear gas canisters horizontally, straight at protesters…what are they protecting?

But it really isn’t just another insanity. Not really. It’s not an insanity del montón. It’s the insanity, the central bit of non-sense that explains all the other strains of non-sense. The meollo of this whole asunto.

Those Guardias Nacionales you see out in protests shooting tear gas canisters horizontally, straight at protesters…what are they protecting? The SIBCI talking heads marched out to read patently fake news in front of cameras…what are they protecting? Every government spokesperson, the whole bedevilled repression-propaganda industrial complex…why does it need to exist? What is its purpose?

It’s this.

In the end, it’s about this.

That entire system exists because the people who have the ability to turn my five bars of chocolate into $3,000 want to be able to continue to do so, indefinitely. It exists because the profits from currency arbitrage remain so obscene, so rampant, so deranged that not to protect them would amount to whatever the bolibourgeoisie’s equivalent of malpractice may be.

It’s easy to forget. But right now, as you read this, amid the squalor and the teargas and the pain, somebody is turnining a Bs.10,000 bolivar note into a thousand dollars. That’s not some historical footnote. The looting isn’t something that once happened and then stopped. It’s ongoing. It’s happening today. Right now.

And will they fight to keep it going? You better believe it.

28 COMMENTS

    • Still thumbing through my copy of Das Kapital looking for the bit about currency arbitrage…can’t seem to find it somehow…

      • Maybe it is on the part that mentioned that “the people has all the power”.

        It’s a matter of guessing who thinks themselves as “the people”

  1. Never quite understood why Venezuela had that DEA poster child/human dildo for the country’s Veep. I just hadn’t thought it through far enough. If he knows nothing else he knows how to scrub clean dirty money. Oh, and lack of any sense of right and wrong amongst your governmental chronies helps. Let’s try and keep any photos of the suffering masses out of the global picture of VZ, it may put pressure on their very private game of Monopoly.

  2. Every Venezuelan president since Caldera (1994) has implemented exchange controls, the last one to NOT have one was Carlos Andres, look what happened to him. Coincidence? I dont think so.

    • You can guess why he was the only one ousted, and why he’s the most reviled by the political and economic elites in the country.

    • “Every Venezuelan president since Caldera (1994) has implemented exchange controls”

      Anyone who doesn’t know anything about Venezuela and reads this statement might be led to believe that there have been a whole lot of presidents between Caldera and Maduro, when only Chavez was in between.

      I don’t know if you are deliberately trying to mislead readers, but for those non-Venezuelan readers who might come to this blog and don’t know much about Venezuelan history, let me clarify this: The only other period of time when Venezuela had exchange control, besides the ones already mentioned, was from February 28, 1983 (last year of Herrera Campins presidency) until February 10, 1989 (i.e. for the whole presidency of Lusinchi).

      In the so called IV Republic, there were no exchange control in the presidential periods of Betancourt (1958-1963), Leoni (1963-1968), Caldera I (1968-1973), Carlos Andres Perez I (1973-1978), the first four years of Herrera Campins (1978-1982) and Carlos Andres Perez II (1988-1993).

      So, the coincidence you refer to in you comment is based on your ignorance of Venezuelan history.

      • Excuse me for my inaccuracies, I have only lived in Venezuela from 1978-1983, 1992-2005, and I was referring to the years when I was most affected by idiotic economic policies implemented by Caldera, and then again by Chavez 1, 2, 3, and 4, and then Maduro, so by my count that is 6 presidential terms, more than enough to destroy a country. Venezuela has surviived despite the pathetic leadership it has endured only because of the resource curse of its fossil fuels. Once again, I apologise for not having googled specifics. And just as an after thought, I find your minimization of the tragedy that is monetary policy in Venezuela an example of the type of ignorance that has effectively destroyed the country that I once considered my own.

    • Well, Caldera did implemented a exchange control, but also he himself abolished it when his government considered it wasn’t longer necessary. It lasted less than 2 years, from july 1994 to april 1996.

  3. I’ve never been able to wrap my head around the actual values, but when I visited last year, I really wanted some artesanía that was apparently less than $20 to me. Judging by my mom’s reaction, though, to the price in bolívares and how MUCH it must have been, I really couldn’t bring myself to just buy it. It felt… disrespectful.

  4. That entire system exists because the people who have the ability to turn my five bars of chocolate into $3,000 want to be able to continue to do so, indefinitely. It exists because the profits from currency arbitrage remain so obscene, so rampant, so deranged that not to protect them would amount to whatever the bolibourgeoisie’s equivalent of malpractice may be.

    Nailed it. If Venezuela ends up in bankruptcy, at the tender mercies of the IMF, the enchufado exchange rate will be the first thing to go. Which is why high-ranking Chavistas denounce the I<F.

    • Heh, the “Tender mercies of the IMF” would serve to lead Venezuela’s economy into recovering a bit of normalcy, which is a capital offense for chavismo.

  5. excellent piece. Summarizes a good portion of the Venezuelan tragedy. This is why we can not negotiate with those gangsters. They have to go to jail.

  6. My sense of this is that unless the economy is Dollarized, people will game the system as they always have. Dollarization is not the fix of a broken economic system, but it does cut down on shenanigans.

    • That’s the point of it:

      Force people to use an useless piece of paper, whose vaule you as the government will determine in front of the hard currency, which you also forbid the people to even touch, lest they want to spend a decade locked in a cell, eating grass with poop and maybe getting killed for not paying the causa to the prison boss.

      It’s called “social control”

  7. “Now, ok, I know. 30,000 bolos isn’t really worth $3,000 to me. I’m not an enchufado, I don’t have the government contacts it takes to get my bolivars recognized at the insane —insane— Bs10=$1 official rate.”

    About how many Enchufados have contacts and access to the Bs10=$1 official rate? Thousands? A few million public employees?

    This would help to explain why more than half of the population still claims to be Chavista..

  8. When we think of the class of enchufados who are perpetrating this giant robbery, and how seemingly easy it has been to perpetrate, we should – as I think your excellent reflection suggests- spare a thought for the thousands of unsung Venezuelans who could easy have joined the heist, had they decided just to make their peace with the regime and play along, and perhaps become stratospherically wealthy for that simple act of obedience, but chose not to.

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