No Cash, No Debit, No Luck

You really need to buy something. But the bank wont give you cash, and the electronic payment system collapsed. Small businesses lose money everyday. Welcome to the new normal in Venezuela.

Some of you may remember my story about the “cash dealer” (I’d give him a percentage of the cash he’d give me). At that time, the shortage of cash was hitting hard. But now, things are a lot worse.

The little kiosk where my “dealer” sells candies and magazines is now bleak. Neighbors would spend a few minutes in line before buying a pack of cigarettes, but now the salesman is mostly on his phone. “There’s barely any connection to the bank, so there’s no way people can make payments with their debit cards, and nobody has cash. I’m losing 70% to 80% of sales because no one can buy stuff.”

“I can’t give you cash because I have no cash.”

For a business like this, no cash or no bank connection is fatal. “We made an investment buying this and now it’s worthless” he said, holding the small point of sale. “Everyday there’s less people with money, and if you have it, you can’t spend it. The cheapest candy is Bs.800, and lines at ATMs are huge, for Bs.10,000 at most.”

A country with no cash sounds like a futuristic idea, but in Venezuela it’s disastrous, and folks like Miguel, a 50-something taxi driver from eastern Caracas, find solutions any way they can: “I have my clients that I’ve kept for years, and they transfer to my bank account. No, I don’t work with people on the street. You can’t with the cash issue.”

But his method is not bulletproof: “The other day I did a carrera (a taxi ride) for Bs.80,000, and I never got the transfer.”

The lines you stand in when you have no choice and you’ve become a hostage of circumstances.

Most businesses in Venezuela today depend on how reliable their point of sale is. You may try a transaction four times before giving up half an hour later, an exercise in frustration where everyone’s a loser. Stores that only rely on cash are dead in the water, exposed to both a breakdown of business and crime.

And on paydays, the frenzy must be seen to be believed.

It’s not only those looking for shelter and what little fun can be found at bars and restaurants, it’s everybody buying groceries as fast as they can, knowing the next day everything might be dramatically more expensive. It’s lines everywhere, loaded with weariness, rage, fear and enough hope to make it all painful. The lines you stand in when you have no choice and you’ve become a hostage of circumstances.

“Most people don’t carry checks, there’s no cash and lines in banks are eternal. For us, this day is completely lost” says Luisa, the not so cheerful cashier at a little restaurant with a line of more than 30 people waiting to pay for their meals.

After almost two hours with broken point of sales, she just gave pieces of papers with the establishment’s bank account number and information. “Transfer the money please, it doesn’t matter if it comes from different banks.”

But she lowers her head in private.

“We are going to lose so much money today” is her grim prediction. “Los vivos no van a pagar.