Confusion reigns as Venezuela braces for release of new banknotes

The new Venezuelan currency will be called the sovereign bolivar — to distinguish from the current, and ironically named strong bolivar, above. (AFP)
Updated 20 August 2018
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Confusion reigns as Venezuela braces for release of new banknotes

  • Caracas is issuing new banknotes after lopping five zeroes off the crippled bolivar
  • The new currency will be anchored to the country’s widely discredited cryptocurrency, the petro

CARACAS: Beleaguered Venezuelans braced Monday for the rollout of President Nicolas Maduro’s radical new plan to curb the spiraling hyperinflation that has thrown their oil-rich, cash-poor nation into turmoil.
Caracas is issuing new banknotes after lopping five zeroes off the crippled bolivar, casting a pall of uncertainty over businesses and consumers across the country.
“There will be a lot of confusion in the next few days, for consumers and the private sector,” said the director of the Ecoanalitica consultancy, Asdrubal Oliveros.
“It’s a chaotic scenario.”
Other measures — revealed by Maduro in a speech to the nation late Friday — include a massive minimum wage hike, the fifth so far this year.
As it stands, the monthly minimum wage — devastated by inflation and the aggressive devaluation of the bolivar — is still not enough to buy a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of meat.
The embattled Maduro, a former bus driver and union leader, said the country needed to show “fiscal discipline” and stop the excessive money printing of recent years.
But economists say the radical overhaul could only make matters worse.
In the capital Caracas, residents were skeptical about the new measures.
“Everything will stay the same, prices will continue to rise,” 39-year-old Bruno Choy, who runs a street food stand, said.
Angel Arias, a 67-year-old retiree, dubbed the new currency a “pure lie!”
Three of the country’s leading opposition groups — Primero Justicia, Voluntad Popular and Causa R — have rejected the reform plan and called for a day of protest on Tuesday.
The new currency, the sovereign bolivar — to distinguish from the current, and ironically named, strong bolivar — will be anchored to the country’s widely discredited cryptocurrency, the petro.
Each petro will be worth about $60, based on the price of a barrel of Venezuelan oil. In the new currency, that will be 3,600 sovereign bolivars — signaling a massive devaluation.
In turn, the minimum wage will be fixed at half a petro (1,800 sovereign bolivars). That is about $28 — more than 34 times the previous level of less than a dollar at the prevailing black market rate.
The socialist president also announced a curb on heavily subsidized fuel in a bid to prevent oil being smuggled to other countries.
Subsidies would only be available to citizens registering their vehicles for a “fatherland card,” which the opposition has decried as a mechanism to exert social control over opponents.
Fuel subsidies have cost Venezuela $10 billion since 2012, according to oil analyst Luis Oliveros, but without them, most people would not be able to buy fuel.
Oliveros also warned that the new bank notes will crumble “within a few months” if hyperinflation is not brought under control.
The International Monetary Fund predicts inflation will hit a staggering one million percent this year in Venezuela — now in a fourth year of recession, hamstrung by shortages of basic goods, and paralyzed public services.
“Don’t pay attention to naysayers,” Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez said, pushing back against criticism of the plan. “With oil income, with taxes and income from gasoline price hikes... we’ll be able to fund our program.”
Oil production accounts for 96 percent of Venezuela’s revenue — but that has slumped to a 30-year low of 1.4 million barrels a day, compared to its record high of 3.2 million 10 years ago.
Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez stripped three zeroes off the bolivar in 2008, but that failed to prevent hyperinflation.


Lebanon’s Hariri calls for cabinet solidarity in budget debate

Updated 18 June 2019
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Lebanon’s Hariri calls for cabinet solidarity in budget debate

  • The PM said cabinet ministers need to be united and responsible
  • Lebanon’s debt is almost 150% of its GDP
BEIRUT, June 18 : Lebanon Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri on Tuesday called for parliament to quickly approve the country’s 2019 budget and urged his coalition government to avoid internal disputes.
The cabinet this month agreed a budget plan that shrinks the projected fiscal deficit by 4 percentage points from last year to 7.6% by cutting spending and raising taxes and other fees.
“What I want during the debate is for us to be responsible and united, and not contradictory,” Hariri said in a statement, addressing cabinet ministers as to their comportment during the parliament debate.
Parliament’s finance committee is debating the draft budget and has suggested amendments, local newspapers reported. It will then put the budget to the full assembly to ratify it.
Parliament is mostly composed of parties that are also present in the coalition government and which supported the budget there.
Since the budget was agreed there have been fierce arguments between parties in the coalition over several subjects, though these have not targeted the budget.
Lebanon has one of the world’s heaviest debt burdens, equivalent to about 150% of GDP, and the International Monetary Fund has urged it to cut spending.
“We have held 19 cabinet meetings to agree on this draft budget and these sessions were not for fun, but for deep, detailed debate over every clause and every idea,” Hariri said.
“For this reason, I consider it the responsibility of each of us in government to have ministerial solidarity...to defend in parliament the decision that we have taken together,” he added.
After the 2019 budget is agreed, the cabinet must quickly start working on the 2020 budget and on approving the first phase of a program of investments toward which foreign donors have offered $11 billion in project financing. (Reporting by Angus McDowall, editing by Ed Osmond)