Venezuela cash crisis sparks looting, protests

A woman counts 100-bolivar-bills at an office in Caracas on December 12, 2016. (AFP)
Updated 17 December 2016
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Venezuela cash crisis sparks looting, protests

CARACAS: Desperate Venezuelans looted delivery trucks and clashed with police as a botched plan to introduce new banknotes left people without cash — the latest shortage in a spiraling economic crisis.
Late Friday President Nicolas Maduro blamed opposition politicians for the unrest, claiming that there were pictures and videos of some opposition members of the National Assembly involved in “attempts of vandalism and some acts of violence.”
He warned that “parliamentary immunity does not reach that far,” but did not give any names.
Maduro mentioned that rioters had torched two state banks in the town of Guasdalito, near the border with Colombia.
He blamed unnamed opposition leaders who were also part of a “contraband mafia” for the incident, and warned that they “will be captured and put behind bars in the next hours.”
Faced with world-high inflation that has made its money increasingly worthless, the government is trying to introduce new bills in denominations up to 200 times higher than the old ones.
But the plan went off the rails when Maduro ordered the 100-bolivar note removed from circulation before the new bills arrived.
Formerly the highest denomination bill, the 100-bolivar note was worth about three US cents, and accounted for 77 percent of the cash in circulation in Venezuela.
Angry protests erupted around the country as the chaotic reform left people without money to buy food or Christmas presents.
In the second city of Maracaibo in the west, groups of protesters hurled stones at police, reports said.
In the eastern city of Maturin, dozens of people blocked off a major avenue and looting broke out.
“I went by the market and it was being guarded by the military. A chicken truck was looted,” Juan Carlos Leal, a farmer in Maturin, told AFP.
In the eastern city of Puerto la Cruz, “people rioted because they wanted to take out money and they weren’t allowed to,” said Genesis, a local baker.
“The police fired in the air to calm the riot. Everyone dispersed and the police ordered all shops to be closed,” said Genesis, who asked not to be identified by her surname for fear of reprisals.
Protests were reported by users on Twitter in several Venezuelan states.
Local media in the western city of Santa Barbara said four people were injured when the drivers of a security truck transporting money opened fire on people trying to break into it.
In the capital Caracas, thousands of Venezuelans from around the country queued to rid themselves of 100-bolivar notes at the only place still accepting them: the central bank.
Many were angry to learn they would only be allowed to deposit the old bills or obtain “special vouchers” for new ones.
“The world has turned upside down. Normally, there’s no food. Now there are no bills to buy it,” said Jesus Garcia, a 21-year-old food vendor who had been in line since 4:00 am.
Maduro has presided over an unraveling of Venezuela’s oil-rich economy as crude prices have plunged.
The import-dependent country is desperately short of food, medicine and basic household goods.
Venezuela currently has the world’s highest inflation rate, set to hit 475 percent this year, according to an IMF forecast.
Maduro, whose popularity has plummeted, said the 100-bolivar note had to be killed because “mafias” were hoarding it abroad in what he called a US-backed plot to destabilize Venezuela.
In response, the leftist leader has sealed the borders with Colombia and Brazil until Sunday, exacerbating the chaos.
Angry crowds massed in the town of San Antonio at a bridge crossing on the Colombian border, yelling “We want to cross!“
“We are suffering. We are hungry, we have no medicine, we have nothing. Nothing!” said one of the people in the crowd, Carmen Rodriguez.
“And now with this money problem, we can’t even buy food.”
The 100-bolivar note ceased to be legal tender on Thursday.
Initially, Venezuelans were to have 10 days after that to exchange them at the central bank.
Maduro subsequently slashed the grace period to five days.
Venezuelans had grown used to carrying around huge stacks of 100-bolivar bills for even the smallest purchases.
Now they are stuck trying to amass even bigger piles of 10-, 20- and 50-bolivar notes.
Some companies have stopped dealing in cash altogether.
The new banknotes were initially to be launched Thursday, starting with a 500-bolivar bill and eventually reaching denominations up to 20,000.
But the bills, which are being printed abroad, have yet to arrive.
“By removing the 100-bolivar bills, they are jamming up the economy,” said economist Alberto Martinez.
“Cash registers have no money. The system is under stress.”


Trump picks ambassador to Canada for UN post

U.S. Ambassador to Canada Kelly Craft takes part in a meeting with Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Trudeau's office on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, November 3, 2017. (REUTERS)
Updated 53 min 23 sec ago
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Trump picks ambassador to Canada for UN post

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump announced Friday that he has selected Kelly Craft, the US ambassador to Canada, as his nominee to serve as the next US ambassador to the United Nations.
Trump said in a pair of tweets that Craft “has done an outstanding job representing our Nation” and he has “no doubt that, under her leadership, our Country will be represented at the highest level.”
Two people familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss personnel matters had told The Associated Press that Trump had been advised that Craft’s confirmation would be the smoothest of the three candidates he had been considering to fill the job last held by Nikki Haley.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, had backed Craft for the post, and she also has the support of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton, the people said. Trump’s first pick to replace Haley, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, withdrew over the weekend.
Craft, a Kentucky native, was a member of the US delegation to the UN General Assembly under President George W. Bush’s administration. She is also friends with McConnell’s wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, and thanked Chao for her “longtime friendship and support” at her swearing-in as ambassador.
As US ambassador to Canada, she played a role in facilitating the US-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, a revamp of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Trump had also considered US Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell and former US Senate candidate John James of Michigan for the post.
Nauert’s withdrawal from consideration came amid a push within the administration to fill the position, given a pressing array of foreign policy concerns in which the United Nations, particularly the UN Security Council, is likely to play a significant role. From Afghanistan to Venezuela, the administration has pressing concerns that involve the world body, and officials said there had been impatience with the delays on Nauert’s formal nomination.
Trump said Dec. 7 that he would pick the former Fox News anchor and State Department spokeswoman for the UN job, but her nomination was never formalized. Notwithstanding other concerns that may have arisen during her confirmation, Nauert’s nomination had languished in part due to the 35-day government shutdown that began Dec. 22 and interrupted key parts of the vetting process. Nauert cited family considerations in withdrawing from the post.
With Nauert out of the running, officials said Pompeo had been keen on Craft to fill the position. Although Pompeo would like to see the job filled, the vacancy has created an opportunity for him and others to take on a more active role in UN diplomacy. On Thursday, for example, Pompeo was in New York to meet with UN chief Antonio Guterres.
Trump has demoted the UN position to sub-Cabinet rank, in a move backed by both Bolton and Pompeo, according to three other officials. Grenell had suggested he wasn’t interested in a non-Cabinet role. The officials were not authorized to discuss internal personnel deliberations and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Haley had been a member of the Cabinet and had clashed repeatedly with former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and others during the administration’s first 14 months. Bolton was not a Cabinet member when he served as UN ambassador in President George W. Bush’s administration, and neither he nor Pompeo is eager to see a potential challenge to their foreign policy leadership in White House situation room meetings, according to the officials.
Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, said Craft was appointed ambassador to Canada because of her financial contributions to the Trump campaign, but said that’s not unusual as past ambassadors have also contributed to presidents who have appointed them.
“I think Ottawa has regarded Craft as a light weight, partly because of her background and partly because the sense is that Trump, unlike his predecessors, doesn’t listen to his ambassadors or care what they think,” Wiseman said.
Craft is married to billionaire coal-mining executive Joe Craft, and they are major Republican donors.
Craft has been ambassador during a low point in relations. Last year Trump called Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau weak and dishonest, words that shocked Canadians.