Caracas (AFP) – Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro again delayed removing the country’s largest bank note from circulation Thursday, after a botched plan to retire it triggered violent protests.
The 100-bolivar note will now remain legal tender until January 20 instead of the 2nd, “so everyone can spend their New Year’s in calm,” Maduro announced in a national address.
The central bank meanwhile announced the arrival of new 20,000-bolivar bills, meant to replace the old money as Venezuela grapples with the world’s highest inflation rate — set to hit 475 percent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund.
As Venezuela flounders through a devastating economic crisis, inflation has gutted the value of the bolivar.
The 100-bolivar note is worth just 15 US cents at the highest official exchange rate, leaving Venezuelans stuck carrying huge stacks of them for even minor purchases.
Maduro triggered riots and looting two weeks ago when he tried to pull the 100-bolivar bill from circulation before replacements had arrived — leaving Venezuelans desperately short of cash for food and Christmas presents.
The leftist leader alleged international “mafias” were hoarding 100-bolivar bills abroad in a US-backed conspiracy.
But after his move to pull it from circulation triggered unrest, he extended its life until January 2.
Venezuela has been rocked by low prices for its key export, oil.
Now in its third year of a deep recession, it is facing severe shortages of food, medicine and basic household goods.
The central bank sought to reassure Venezuelans that its currency reform was on track.
Its deputy director, Jose Khan, announced a shipment of 2.9 million 20,000-bolivar bills and 4.5 million 5,000-bolivar bills had arrived from Malta.
Another 60 million 500-bolivar bills have arrived in recent days, he said.
The new bills have yet to appear on the street, however. So far, Venezuelans have only seen new 50-bolivar coins.
The date the new bills will enter circulation will be announced in January, said Khan.