LATE-STAGE SOCIALISM: Venezuela Is Now Awash in U.S. Dollars.
We used to catch only rare glimpses of them in public. A waiter willing to risk jail time might be persuaded to accept them for the right price. Amateur tourists would flash them at the airport. Shady street hawkers made offers for them under their breath.
Now, U.S. greenbacks are everywhere. They’re stacked high in cashiers’ drawers at supermarkets and bodegas and even make their way into panhandlers’ cups. The wealthy tip parking valets with singles and pull out wads of twenties to pay for buckets of beer. Currency traders casually set up on busy street corners in slums and shout, “Compro dolares, compro dolares”—“I buy dollars.”
With the bolivar all but worthless, devalued into irrelevance by the autocrat Nicolas Maduro, the cash printed by the gringos he rails against has become king. It is beyond ironic that Washingtons and Benjamins—and not the domestic notes named for the South American independence hero—are keeping the consumer economy afloat.
Until recently, using foreign money was a crime the government enthusiastically threatened to prosecute. After the ruling socialists established currency controls back in 2003, they began patrolling for transactions that ran afoul of their Kafkaesque rules about money. Plain-clothed inspectors ran stings and raided businesses.