Original art by @modográfico
Inflation is like money cancer, and hyperinflation is money metastasis. The AN’s report estimating inflation for December at 85% ratifies that we’ve now crossed Phillip Cagan’s threshold. But forget about that; raw hyperinflation means much more that prices increasing every day. As the bolívar’s value plummets, people start using other exchange methods.
For some time now in Caracas, there’s been products and services that can (or must) be paid either in dollars, or in bolivars at current black market rate, but this mostly happens in supermarkets selling foreign goods or deluxe services. Yet, little by little, the situation extends to simpler contexts.
I go to Maracaibo every year to spend Christmas with my family and remember what true heat feels like, so as not to complain about Caracas later on. It’s been two years since I left the country and every time I return, I’m astonished by how derelict sewers in the Libertador avenue become child’s play when compared to the enormous holes in the Circunvalación 2. This year, Corpoelec also reminded me what it feels like to spend the night at 36° C and the beauty of celebrating Christmas Eve in the dark, as María did in Belén.
Never did La Grey Zuliana resound so deeply.
Anyway, I went with my friend Valeria to the movies. We were supposed to leave early, but there was a 30-minute outage halfway through the film. Ben Solo was about to shoot the engines of the cruiser where Leia was travelling and we heard the typical “uuuuh” and a guy’s voice saying “¡Vergación! You’ve gotta be kiddin’ me!”
There’s been products and services that can (or must) be paid either in dollars, or in bolivars at current black market rate.
A theatre employee came up with a lamp and after eating popcorns in the dark for 35 minutes, we finished watching the film. By the time we left, we had to take a cab and that’s where problems multiplied.
Since I moved abroad, I lost the habit of carrying cash on me. In Zulia, that’s a fatal mistake. Due to power outages, many points of sale have gone out of service and due to trading with Colombia, finding cash is far harder than in the capital, and that’s impossible already.
There were still a lot of people in the mall at 9:00 p.m., especially employees turning in for the night and, following them, we reached the line to get a taxi. We’d been there for scarcely two minutes when we noticed everyone had a pack of bills in their hands.
“Can we pay via bank transfer?”
“Sure, but they prioritize people with cash.”
In Maracaibo, according to my dad, buying anything that can be sold at the border is now impossible, and such is the case of tires. When our taxi arrived, I realized the back tires were repaired (“they’ve had surgery,” as people say here when a tire is put into another and sealed.) We finally got on the taxi but without mobile data, it was rather difficult to transfer the money to the driver. In Maracaibo, when lights go out, mobile signal goes too.
Due to power outages, many points of sale have gone out of service and due to trading with Colombia, finding cash is far harder than in the capital.
I start talking with the driver to buy some time for my friend to pay, but we were nearly at the end of our trip and we still didn’t have the money. With the backdrop of vallenato streaming from the radio, Valeria called her mom to ask her to make the transfer, but there was no power at her house either.
“Did you make the transfer?” the driver asked.
We looked at each other, we played with our hair, we scratched our cheeks. And Valeria had a sudden burst of genius, “Chamo, I have a $2 bill here. Would you take it as payment?”
The guy frowned.
“And how am I supposed to exchange that?”
“Why would you exchange it? One dollar’s worth more than the ride in bolívares.”
So we started bargaining and agreed on a guarantee: we gave him the bill (yes, the $2 bill is for real) with the promise of giving him the equivalent in bolívares the next day. When we got out of the taxi, we thanked the driver and restated our commitment to honor the deal.
The guy smiled and waved his hand.
“Chama, don’t worry” he said, smiling. “I’ve got the Niño Jesús for my son.”