Photo: Fabiola Ferrero retrieved

Monday, 1:00 p.m. I’m in Caracas, the most violent city in the world and, since I’m not from here, I’m extra-scared. I constantly look over my shoulder, trying to be aware of my surroundings, but there are too many things happening at once. It’s motorcycles everywhere and everyone walks super fast.

The big city is not for me. I can’t shake off the feeling I’m gonna get robbed any second now.

I’ll be doing research in Caracas, and my employers are lending me a laptop. The catch is, I have to pick it up at El Hatillo, in one corner of town, and bring it to the office in Chacao, in the opposite part of town. They told me to get a cab, and they would pay back whatever I spend. I have 10 million bolivars in my account, I figure a cab costs about four million, so I have enough.

Cash is very scarce, and I spent all of mine getting here, so I’ll have to find someone who accepts a transfer.

Cash is very scarce… so I’ll have to find someone who accepts a transfer.

I hail the first cab, a gray Ford Fiesta.

“Do you accept pago móvil?

He leaves.

I don’t know Caracas, so I just keep walking until I find another taxi, a brown rusty car.

“Hey, buddy. Say, pago móvil?”

And off he goes.

Pago móvil is the bank’s response to the cash drought. It lets you transfer money from your  phone to any local bank using the phone number and the recipient’s ID number. I’ve never used it, but I have the app installed and ready to go.

I walk to the Sambil. Right in front of the mall, there’s a bunch of mototaxis in the shadow of a tree. On the other side of the busy road, only one cab is parked. I reach it.

“Do you accept pago móvil, man?”

“No, but I accept transfers from Banesco.”

The sun hits me right on the face, I can barely see him from the sidewalk.

“My money is in Mercantil.”

Pago móvil is the bank’s response to the cash drought.

I don’t really have a Mercantil bank account, I’m using my brother’s, who moved away to Colombia. Since I don’t have his cards, I only use it for transfers. At points of sale, I use another Mercantil account that a friend lends me. For that one, I can use the debit card, but I can’t do transfers.

I do have a bank account of my own, but it’s from Banco de Venezuela.

“I can’t find a taxi that accepts pago móvil,” I tell the driver.

He takes a moment of urban meditation and, after doing something on his phone, he says:

“You can pay me with pago móvil.

“Great! How much to Los Naranjos?”

“10 million.”

“Are you serious?”

I could barely pay for one cab, and now I need more money for the ride back.

I don’t want to take my phone out, in the street, so I go inside the Sambil, right at the entrance, and I can see the taxi from the glass door. I text friends to lend me 10 million, which is a lot, by the way. The monthly salary, with the food bonus, amounts to just five million.

I could barely pay for one cab, and now I need more money for the ride back.

After half an hour, someone transfers me the money, so I go back to the taxi. The driver tells me his pago móvil info, I try to login to the app and everything is easy-peasy.

“Wrong password.”

I’m using a password manager, so I know the password is correct. I try again.

“Wrong password. Remember that after three attempts, your account will be blocked.”

I don’t want to go into how difficult it is to recover a bank account that’s not even yours, so I’ll just say it’s pretty tough. Third try, this time I do get access.

During this whole time, I’m super scared; I have my phone out and I can’t watch over my shoulders because my eyes are buried in the screen, making sure I’m typing the numbers correctly.

It takes several tries. Movilnet, the government-owned mobile service provider, was acting up as always, but when I finally get to the part where I have to type in the amount for the transfer, I read the note at the bottom of the page:

“Dude, there’s a daily limit of 15 million for your security and stuff.”  That’s paraphrased, by the way.

There’s a daily limit of 15 million for your security and stuff.

Now I truly can’t pay. It’s already 2:30 p.m., I need to get this laptop today and get some work done at the office before nightfall. I panic, brainstorming with myself: Maybe if I take the subway, get closer to El Hatillo and get a taxi there? How do you even use the subway? What if I give him a shoe as a guarantee of payment? Because these shoes ain’t worth much anyway.”

And then it comes to me:

My dad has a Banesco account!”

I immediately open the Banesco webpage. I have access to my dad’s bank account, because I was the one who set it up. After, like, five tries (because Movilnet), I’m in. The driver is just bored, talking to a mototaxista. I’m praying to the old gods and the new that he doesn’t get another client.

The page opens with enough money.

I write the banking information, and when I hit next… The dinosaur thingy that shows up on Chrome when there’s no internet, shows up.

I reload the page like crazy, but when it finally connects, I’m logged out. Back to square one.

In the back of my mind, I’m thinking of the speech I’ll give to the malandro that’s just about to rob me so he lets me do this bank transfer before I hand him my phone.

After I enter the username and password, the page tells me there’s already a session in place, and there can be only one session open at a time. For my security.

I’m thinking of the speech I’ll give to the malandro that’s just about to rob me so he lets me do this bank transfer before I hand him my phone.

Keep in mind, this is normal banking in Venezuela. This is not because systems were collapsed that day, or because of my crazy bad luck. This is normal. This is how you pay for stuff here.

The motorizado tells me I have to wait 10 minutes for the system to log me out, before I can try again.

I try again immediately. And, again, I get in. I tried ten more times, I swear to God, and always the same thing: the dinosaur of fuck you.

I finally give up, it’s 3:30 p.m., and I go to the Sambil to sit or something. I ask in WhatsApp groups if someone has 20 million lying around in a Banesco account to pay for a cab, and my friend María comes up with a solution. She asks me for the bank information so she can try from her home. Now she has my dad’s Banesco account…

…and it works like a charm. Solved in 30 seconds.

I’m inside the mall, so I almost run to the taxi and he’s still there! It’s 4:00 p.m. I need to fetch the laptop and bring it to an office that closes at 5:00 o’clock.

“Here, I paid you, let’s go. I asked someone to make the transfer for me.”

The driver, super calmly (as if he didn’t waste a whole day of work), scratches his nose.

“Tell her to send you the capture,” he says.

“Yeah, yeah, but let’s go, it’s there, dude, I swear.”

No luck, it’s only after I show him the image that he moves.

I try again immediately. And, again, I get in. I tried ten more times.

When we get the laptop and go back to Chacao, it’s past 5:00 p.m. I tell him to drop me off at the hotel instead, knowing my chance for today is lost. We’re on a rather fluid flow of traffic, and I figure disappointment is evident on my face.

“You know,” the driver says, “I was hesitant to bring you to El Hatillo, because the car is overheating and I don’t want to force it too much. But I’ve been having a slow day. You’re the first client today.”

That’s when I realize that the whole time I was there, neither the driver nor the mototaxista he was talking to got a single client. How could they? For the one time money wasn’t a limitation for me, it still took me three hours, the help of friends and a lot of luck to to pay the equivalent of $4.

Now imagine the luck of those poor souls in Zulia.

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29 COMMENTS

  1. Believe it or not there are plenty of US citizens who firmly believe we need to move to a cashless economy. After all, they have complete trust in a Big Government to do the right thing… and to keep track of other people’s money.

    • It’s pretty much cashless already. Only about 10% of all U.S. money is in cash, and a lot of that is overseas, from what I understand.

      • And it’s probably safe to bet that 90% of the cash everywhere, at all levels of the Kleptozuelan Animal Farm, comes from izquierdazos, mordidas y chanchullos. Qu’en penses-tu, Jacques?

      • It’s simply the final phase of the complete Cubanization of Kleptozuela, as I’ve been saying here or there for years: According to the patented Neo-Communist model, created by the Soviets, Chinese and Cubans, now tropicalized for Kleptozuela, what you do is force the best to leave the country, the educated, hard-working, intelligent, productive. Pal exilio. Then, inevitably the REMESAS start to pour in, another huge way to STEAL and tax, bajando a la gente de la mula, left and right. That’s how the Castros have remained in power for almost 7 decades without oil. Money from Miami or Spain, etc. That’s how Chavismo remains in power for the 3rd decade in Klepto-Cubazuela. Now that the oil is mortgaged to the Russians and Chinese, and now that they can’t produce shyt, they rely on 2 things to keep el coroto and seguit ROBANDO: Money from the forced exiles (about 3 Million, I’d say) and NARCO TRAFICO. Basically. Classic Cuban recipe para atornillarse en el poder. Nothing new.

      • “Only about 10% of all U.S. money is in cash, and a lot of that is overseas, from what I understand.”

        US money is “wealth”. Cash is just another one of the tools for utilizing that wealth. I would expect that the number is closer to 5%… possibly less. I would expect that most of it is overseas, too. US currency tends to retain its value.

        Very little wealth is kept in cash. I asked a banker friend years ago how long it would take for a person with millions of dollars in liquidity to get just one million dollars in cash from his local bank. He said “probably 3 days”, as nobody keeps that sort of jing around in their vaults**. (I imagine longer now, as Uncle would want to know WHY you wanted $1 million in cash)

        The movies seems to make people think that casinos and banks have great heaping stacks of cash stored in vast vaults. They don’t. Which is problematic for those who think that wealth is finite… only X amount of wealth can be accumulated in the celestial Wealth Pie.

        A fraud, but convenient for those who espouse the Marxist doctrine of “wealth inequality”… as if the wealth I/you/anyone accumulates has any bearing on someone elses ability to accumulate wealth.

        —–

        ** Chamber of Commerce story: About 10 years ago, some local guy sold all of his belongings and decided he wanted all of his wealth in cash, which was about $15 million. He apparently had cancer of some sort. Anyway, Uncle got wind of it and would only let him access half of it. He could get half his money in cash, but Treasury wanted to know what he was going to do with it before they released it to him. Down to the last $100. Otherwise, no way. It was a big production, as it was his wealth and he wanted it. Uncle wouldn’t back down… because Uncle ALWAYS wants his cut. FIRST. Besides, while it was John Q. Publics wealth, it was Uncle Sam’s cash (the tool), and Uncle didn’t want “that sort of thing” happening. (That sort of thing being people getting cash and NOT PAYING TAXES ON IT)

        The other half he couldn’t access at all, because Uncle was going to get a cut of this guys wealth upon his death, and didn’t want him spending it down before he died.

        Revenue, sweet revenue.

    • A cashless society is not the same as a country without cash. The USA could almost be a country with most transactions done without legal tender. But a $0.01 – One cent holds intrinsic value. The USA is the only country on earth whose legal tender has never been ”adjusted”. Venezuela on the other hand, is a a society without cash or what some economists call a ”reduced cash” society. It doesn’t matter the reason at this point.

      • Not ‘adjusted’, and it’s a long time ago, but the US dollar has gone to zero twice, hyperinflated. First, the Continental dollar in 18th century, then the Greenback in about the 1870s.
        The third and fourth ‘events’, the rescinding of gold redeemability for citizens in 1934, and for nations in 1971 completed the conversion to a totally fiat currency.
        Also, today, Billion is the new Million …

        • you’re right, but my point is the Bolivar currency was created around the same time, like many other currencies, French Franc, Escudo Portugues, etc. all of those currencies have been severely depreciated. While the penny still subsists. Depreciated and all, but a 3% ANNUAL inflation compounded over almost 150 years is never comparable to a 3% per DAILY inflation or approx. 4.8 million percent ANNUALLY. The compounded inflation over 150 years in the USA is equivalent to one-year inflation in Venezuela.

          If the USA Dollar had remained stuck on the gold as the unique reference of the currency value, then the whole world would have collapsed years ago. We don’t want to go into that diatribe while Venezuela is lingering and spiraling down to a certain death.

          • …The compounded inflation over 150 years in the USA is equivalent to ONE-HALF of one-year inflation in Venezuela. More or less.

  2. Hey Carlos, how about this:

    Last week I needed a 3.5 mm. female-to-male, short audio cord so I could hook up an analog mike to my computer. I logged on to Amazon, put the request into their search engine, and in less than a second was presented with about 30 choices. I downloaded the spec of a reasonably priced one, in PDF format, and determined it was exactly what I needed. I put it in my cart, proceeded to checkout, chose next day delivery, was presented with a detailed invoice, and pressed the Purchase button. That was it. They already had my bank info. Two days later everything was hooked up and I can now talk to my computer.

    The entire process took about as much time as it takes to write about it.

  3. Jacques, I saw a recent stats showing the USA paying with legal tender only 5% of transactions. This has been accentuated by all the panoply of payment methods replacing ”cash”. The problem in Venezuela results from this out of world reference hyperinflation. And a possible confusion between an on-purpose cashless society (South Korea) vs. a society with reduced cash because of the legal tender having no value whatsoever. Put it this way, even if you cannot buy anything or almost with one dollar cent, that little coin holds value. The opposite is what’s going on in Venezuela to the extent I understand.

  4. Another day in Venezuelan Hell…good article carlos.

    I dont have Banesco so f$#ked with the taxis. I pay a transportista every week by transfer for set hours for my girlfriend, kids and business, but outside of that I have completely given up on taxis for almost a year since there is no cash. Really, we dont go out anymore and just have parrillas at home with friends and family. Honestly, I will do my best not to travel until this piece of shit government falls…and hopefully that will be sooner than later because we have all suffered enough already.

  5. This entire piece gave me anxiety.
    You took your phone out?
    You travel through Caracas with a laptop!? I’m assuming you had it in a backpag and not in a laptop bag, because that’s a clear death sentance right there.
    I left the country almost a year ago and I’m amassed at how I can’t even begin to grasp the reality of the economy.
    I mean, what!? 10 million for a cab fare? TEN FUCKING MILLIONS!? that’s insane.

    • I cant speak to the dangers of being seen with a phone or laptop in Caracas in the middle of the day in a busy location, but 10 Million Bs using electronic transfer is pretty cheap for a cab ride. That’s less than $2 USD based on the DT XR, and less than $3 USD using the government approved Zoom remittance rate.

    • Tom,
      Pocahontas is staking out her position for the 2020 Presidential primaries.
      The Citizens United ruling that the left so vehemently despises will come into full use against her.
      She is nuts. Massachusetts, California and sadly my state New York seem to find lunatics that wouldn’t get elected in a Kiwanis club to rise to national prominence.
      I find it interesting that she complains about CEO pay and that the stockholders have so little influence over the boards of most major corporations. The large state retirement funds and the endowments of major universities are the entities that have influence over corporate boards.
      The Liberals refusal to allow any Social Security monies to be invested in the stock markets eliminates opportunities for many people to share in the wealth created in our country. I think that properly managed defined contribution plans are a much better deal for employees than the old corporate defined benefit plans. With a little discipline, a well managed 401 K plan allows people to pass wealth on to their heirs. Allowing Social Security to be partially invested in the same way makes sense. This is how the Federal Employees Retirement System works.
      A pension doesn’t allow the same opportunity. Normally the pension ends upon death or the recipient chose a reduced pension to allow for a reduced survivor’s benefit for a spouse.

  6. If Elizabeth has her way we can enjoy the same experiences as Venezuelans right here in the states. Won’t have to travel to get a taste of it.

  7. Intriguing anecdotes from the wild-wild tropical 5th world. Living on that Kleptozuelan Cubanoide hell, what I’d do is what a good friend of mine does: Hit the gym. Work, Market, Gym, home. Rinse, repeat. Work, Sleep, Gym, Home, lock the doors. And windows. Grow a beard and hide behind hat too. Build some serious muscle, cultivate speed of hands and reflexes. Por si a las moscas. Make friends in the neighborhood, smoke some weed or have a beer with the worst malandros de la esquina. Then sleep, work, gym, mercado, home. Rinse, repeat. Until some people with the real cojones dare to fly better Drones next time.

  8. …The compounded inflation over 150 years in the USA is equivalent to ONE-HALF of one-year inflation in Venezuela. More or less.

  9. I could not wade through all that pain, but I have some good advice: Don’t borrow trouble.

    If someone wants you to do something for pay plus expenses, then get an advance from them. If they want you to use a laptop, let them deliver it to you. If the job is important to them, then they will get the advance and delivery, etc. done.

  10. Bills are so scarce that they can be sold for 3 times their nominal value , I mean you buy a carton of eggs for 4.5 million Bs if you pay with a debit and for 1.5 million Bs if you pay with cash……, there are lots of routine payments which can only be done in cash because there is no machine which will take your debit or credit card , for example purchase of gasoline, or parking fees, most taxis , a whole bunch of other stuff ……..Presumably this problem will be tamed once the new bills can out with denominations shorn of 6 of the zeroes the once had , at least until hyperinflation catches up in a few months time , still gasoline prices will be much higher and no gas stations have debit card payment points so people must use more cash to buy their petrol ….the head aches never end..!!

  11. The high percentages of cashless transactions in the U.S. and other first world countries is irrelevant, because we can still use cash…easily…wherever we want, even up to very high amounts.

    I just don’t understand how comments on increasingly cashless societies like the U.S. have anything to do with VZ at all, because VZ HAS no cash.

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