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

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.


Japan’s Uniqlo pulls ad after South Korean fury

Updated 21 October 2019

Japan’s Uniqlo pulls ad after South Korean fury

  • South Korean and Japanese relationship is deeply strained by the legacy of Tokyo’s 20th-century expansionism
  • Seoul and Tokyo are currently locked in a bitter trade and diplomatic row stemming from historical disputes
SEOUL: Japanese retail giant Uniqlo has pulled a commercial featuring a 98-year-old US fashion figure from South Korean screens, it said Monday after it was accused of whitewashing colonial history.
South Korea and Japan are both US allies, democracies and market economies faced with an overbearing China and nuclear-armed North Korea, but their relationship is deeply strained by the legacy of Tokyo’s 20th-century expansionism.
The latest example is an advert for Uniqlo fleeces showing elderly fashion celebrity Iris Apfel chatting with designer Kheris Rogers, 85 years her junior.
The last line has the white-haired Apfel, asked how she used to dress as a teenager, innocuously responding: “Oh my God. I can’t remember that far back.”
But Uniqlo’s Korean arm subtitled its version of the ad slightly differently, reading: “I can’t remember things that happened more than 80 years ago.”
That would put the moment as 1939, toward the end of Japan’s brutal colonial rule over the Korean peninsula, where the period is still bitterly resented, and some South Koreans reacted furiously.
“A nation that forgets history has no future. We can’t forget what happened 80 years ago that Uniqlo made fun of,” commented one Internet user on Naver, the country’s largest portal.
The phrase “Uniqlo, comfort women,” in reference to women forced to become sex slaves to Japanese troops during the Second World War, was among the most searched terms on Naver at the weekend, and demonstrators protested outside Uniqlo shops on Monday.
Seoul and Tokyo are currently locked in a bitter trade and diplomatic row stemming from historical disputes, and South Korean consumers have mounted boycotts of Japanese products.
Uniqlo — which has 186 stores in South Korea — has itself been one of the highest-profile targets, while Japanese carmakers’ sales dropped nearly 60 percent year-on-year in September.
The company denied the allegations in a statement, saying the text was altered to highlight the age gap between the individuals and show that its fleeces were for people “across generations.”
“The ad had no intention whatsoever to imply anything” about colonial rule, a Uniqlo representative said on Monday, adding the firm had withdrawn the ad in an effort at damage control.
Analysts said the controversy demonstrated the politicization of the neighbors’ complex history.
The reaction was excessive, said Kim Sung-han, a former foreign affairs vice minister who teaches at Korea University, involving a “jump in logic” that “assumes everything Uniqlo does is political as a Japanese company.”
“I don’t see how her remark could be linked to the comfort women issue,” he added. “This is overly sensitive.”