Photo: El Venezolano News

“I don’t want anyone seeing me here,” the lady says.

“Anyone seeing you here is doing the same as you,” another lady replies.

They’re both in a little store at the CCCT mall, in Caracas. The shop’s window shelves are all empty and, inside, there’s only a man and a cashier. “We buy gold and silver,” the cashier says to me, “anything you have. We don’t want dollars or euros, just gold and silver.”

The process is simple: you take your shiny metal to an appraisal, first with a stone and then with a liquid. It’s all done right in front of you, and that’s how the store checks that what you’re selling them is legit, in which case you provide them your bank account info. Minutes later, you’re paid by transfer.

The gold “Compra y Venta” has grown quite a bit in the Venezuelan capital. What used to be a marginal business in very specific zones can now be found in popular middle-class malls, at everyone’s reach.

Some people sell their jewelry because they are leaving, but others need a new bed or cellphone. Or food.

“Nobody buys, everyone comes to sell,” a merchant in the San Ignacio mall explains to me. “People sell their families’ silver cutlery, silver frames, babies bracelets, anything.”

“I have to sell this ring my husband gave me years ago to fix my car” a 50-year-old lady tells me. “It’s not a tragedy. I can’t wear it anyway, so I’d rather use it in something that’s actually helpful.”

In Chacaito and downtown Caracas, you can also see a lot of Compra y Venta signs, and they share the stage with pescadores, guys just standing there, offering to buy your gold or silver — if you take a stroll with them somewhere. Word is, they’re linked to crime and if you accept their offer, chances are you’re getting kidnapped.

“It’s better to sell your gold abroad if you’re emigrating, but if they see you in Maiquetía travelling with a lot of jewelry, you will lose at least some of it” the store owner at the San Ignacio mall tells me. “Some people sell their jewelry because they are leaving, but others need a new bed or cellphone. Or food.”

In a Chacaito store, a lady in her 70s takes a ring out of her underwear.

“Just in case,” she says with a smile.

The gram of gold costs 20 million bolivars, a price that used to be “regulated” by DolarToday before today’s anarchy. Now, you recognize the business by its universal traits: small stores with nothing on display and a couple of workers, all buying, never selling. What do they do with the gold? A mystery nobody cleared for me.

“Everyone’s doing this,” the Chacaito lady says. “Years ago, you’d give a gold ring for Christmas or a graduation, but now these are your savings, for when you need medicine. What happens after you’ve sold all you got?”

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