Venezuelans buy gas with cigarettes to battle inflation

1 / 2
In this Oct. 8, 2019 photo, a gas station attendant takes a cigarette as payment from a motorist as he fills the tank in San Antonio de los Altos on the outskirts of Caracas, Venezuela. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
2 / 2
In this Oct. 8, 2019 photo, a gas station attendant takes a package of corn flour as payment after filling a motorist's tank, which costs a tiny fraction of a US penny, in San Antonio de los Altos on the outskirts of Caracas, Venezuela. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
Updated 26 October 2019

Venezuelans buy gas with cigarettes to battle inflation

  • Bartering at the pump has taken off as hyperinflation makes Venezuela’s paper currency, the bolivar, hard to find
  • The South American nation of roughly 30 million people is gripped by a deepening political and economic crisis

CARACAS, Venezuela: Motorists in socialist Venezuela have long enjoyed the world’s cheapest gasoline, with fuel so heavily subsidized that a full tank these days costs a tiny fraction of a US penny. But the economy is in such shambles that drivers are now paying for fill-ups with a little food, a candy bar or just a cigarette.
Bartering at the pump has taken off as hyperinflation makes Venezuela’s paper currency, the bolivar, hard to find and renders some denominations all but worthless, so that nobody will accept them.
Without cash in their wallets, drivers often hand gas station attendants a bag of rice, cooking oil or whatever is within reach.
“You can pay with a cigarette,” said Orlando Molina, filling up his subcompact Ford Ka in Caracas. “Heck, it’s no secret to anyone that it goes for nothing.”
Gas is so dirt-cheap that station attendants don’t even know the price. Empty-handed drivers get waved through, paying nothing at all.
This barter system, while perhaps the envy of cash-strapped drivers outside the country, is just another symptom of bedlam in Venezuela.
The South American nation of roughly 30 million people is gripped by a deepening political and economic crisis. People live with a nagging feeling that anything from violent street protests to a massive power failure could throw their lives into chaos at any moment.
More than 4 million Venezuelans have fled the country in recent years, escaping low wages, broken hospitals, failing basic services and lack of security.
The International Monetary Fund says inflation is expected to hit a staggering 200,000% this year. Venezuela dropped five zeros from its currency last year in a futile attempt to keep up with inflation. Soaring prices quickly devoured the new denominations.
The smallest bill in circulation, 50 bolivars, is worth about quarter of a US penny. City buses and even banks don’t accept it, arguing it would take such a thick wad of bills to pay for even the most modest items that it wouldn’t be worth the trouble. The largest bill, 50,000 bolivars, equals $2.50.
Venezuela, which sits atop the world’s largest oil reserves, was once rich. But the economy has fallen into ruin because of what critics say has been two decades of corruption and mismanagement under socialist rule.
President Nicolás Maduro’s hold on power is under challenge from opposition politician Juan Guaidó, who has the backing of the United States and more than 50 other countries that contend Maduro’s re-election in 2018 was crooked.
Gasoline prices are a deadly serious matter in Venezuela. Roughly 300 people died in 1989 during riots that erupted after the country’s president at the time ordered a modest rise in fuel prices.
Amid the economic crash, Maduro has not substantially raised gas prices, a strategy that was probably reinforced after violent protests recently forced the president of Ecuador to back off plans to end fuel subsidies there.
Maduro has acknowledged that the state-run oil company, PDVSA, loses billions of dollars a year because of the discrepancy between the price of gasoline and the costs of production.
At the most, a tank of Venezuelan gasoline has historically cost the equivalent of a few US pennies. Because of inflation and devaluation of the currency, that has plunged even further.
Caracas resident Maria Perez filled up one day recently, handing the attendant the equivalent of one penny, the smallest bill she had. Most drivers would gladly pay the true price of gas if the government would use the proceeds to invest in services, she said.
“Our roads are unbearable,” she said while running errands on her day off with her mother in the passenger seat. “There are huge holes — craters — that not only damage our cars but also put our own lives at risk.”
Gasoline in Venezuela’s capital of Caracas, the seat of power and largest population center, has so far been immune from the shortages and mile-long lines that plague other parts of the country and can leave drivers waiting for days to reach the pump. Officials blame the shortages on US sanctions against PDVSA.
Service station attendant Orlando Godoy stacked the food and drinks he received from drivers on top of the pumps — a bag of cooking flour, cooking oil, a bottle of mango juice. He earns minimum wage, which amounts to a few dollars a month, so the food helps feed his family.
“A lot of people show up saying they don’t have cash to pay,” he said. “The idea is to help people because Venezuelans are going through a rough situation.”


Indian woman who alleged gang rape dies after burn attack

Updated 19 min 45 sec ago

Indian woman who alleged gang rape dies after burn attack

  • The woman was attacked in the state of Uttar Pradesh by a group of men that included two of the five she had accused of gang rape last year
  • The 23-year-old woman suffered extensive injuries and was airlifted Thursday from Uttar Pradesh to Safdarjung Hospital in New Delhi, where she died late Friday of cardiac arrest

NEW DELHI: An alleged rape victim in northern India who was set on fire while heading to a court hearing in the case has died in a New Delhi hospital, officials said Saturday.
The woman was attacked in the state of Uttar Pradesh by a group of men that included two of the five she had accused of gang rape last year, police said. The two were out of custody on bail.
Five men were arrested in connection with the burn attack, police said.
The 23-year-old woman suffered extensive injuries and was airlifted Thursday from Uttar Pradesh to Safdarjung Hospital in New Delhi, where she died late Friday of cardiac arrest, said Dr. Shalab Kumar, head of the hospital’s burn unit.
Yogi Adityanath, the state’s chief minister, said that the case would be heard in a fast track court and that the “strictest of punishment will be given to the culprits.”
Priyanka Gandhi, general secretary of the opposition Congress party, faulted the Uttar Pradesh government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, for failing to provide the woman with security, even after a similar case in the state in which a woman who accused a BJP lawmaker of rape was severely injured in a vehicle hit-and-run incident.
Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, is known for its poor record regarding crimes against women. According to the most recent available official crime records, police registered more than 4,200 cases of rape in the state in 2017 — the most in India.
Government figures for 2017 also show that police registered 33,658 cases of rape in the country. But the real figure is believed to be far higher as many women in India don’t report cases to police due to fear.
Indian courts also seem to be struggling to deal with these cases. Data shows that more than 90% of cases of crimes against women are pending in city courts.
The burn victim’s death came on the same day police in the southern state of Telangana fatally shot four men being held on suspicion of raping and killing a 27-year-old veterinarian after investigators took them to the crime scene. Their deaths drew both praise and condemnation in a case that has sparked protests across the country.
The woman’s burned corpse was found last week by a passer-by near the city of Hyderabad, India’s tech hub, after she went missing the previous night.
Police took the four suspects, who had not been charged with any crime, to the scene to help them locate the victim’s phone and other items, officials said. They said the men grabbed police firearms and began shooting, and were killed when police returned fire.
The Telangana High Court ordered authorities to preserve the bodies of the suspects and submit a video of the autopsies ahead of a court hearing set for Monday.
Separately, the National Commission on Human Rights, an autonomous body within India’s Parliament, sent a fact-finding mission to the crime scene and mortuary where the suspects’ bodies were held on Saturday amid questions from opposition lawmakers about the circumstances of the suspects’ deaths.