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Venezuela rolls out new currency, but dollar still popular

Nation’s revised legal tender includes fewer zeros in bid to ease transactions by REGINA GARCIA CANO AND JORGE RUEDA THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | October 2, 2021 at 1:52 a.m.
FILE - In this Feb. 22, 2018 file photo, Venezuelan Bolivars weaved together create a purse that is for sale in La Parada, Colombia, on the border with Venezuela. A new currency with six fewer zeros debuts Friday, Oct. 1, 2021, in Venezuela, whose currency has been made nearly worthless by years of the world's worst inflation. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara, File)

CARACAS, Venezuela -- A new currency with six fewer zeros debuted Friday in Venezuela, whose currency has been made nearly worthless by years of the world's worst inflation.

But the new bills were nowhere to be found in the capital, where consumers' fears that prices will continue to spiral upward proved to be right.

"Today, I went to the supermarket and everything was marked in dollars," Lourdes Portelo, an office worker, said in a shopping center in the east side of Caracas. "In the end, I couldn't buy anything, I didn't have enough money."

Before the adjustment, the highest denomination was a 1 million bolivar bill that was worth a little less than a quarter as of Thursday. The new currency tops out at 100 bolivars, a little less than $25 -- until inflation starts to eat away at that as well.

The million-to-1 change for the bolivar is intended to ease both cash transactions and bookkeeping calculations in bolivars that now require juggling almost endless strings of zeros.

"The most important and fundamental reason is that the payment systems are already collapsed because the number of digits make the payment systems and doing the math practically unmanageable," said Jose Guerra, an economics professor at the Central University of Venezuela. "These debit card payment processing systems or an accounting system for companies ... are not intended for hyperinflation, but for a normal economy."

Under the old system, a 2-liter bottle of soda could cost more than 8 million bolivars -- and many of those bills were scarce, so a customer might have to pay with a thick wad of paper.

Banks allowed customers to withdraw a maximum of 20 million bolivars in cash per day, or sometimes less if the branch was running short.

So, consumers have come to rely on U.S. dollars and digital payment methods, such as Zelle and PayPal, to make purchases. Nowadays, most transactions are made electronically, and Guerra said that more than 60% are made in U.S. dollars.

When Venezuela's Central Bank announced the currency change last month, officials said payment systems will be modernized to expand digital use of the bolivar.

They also underscored that the elimination of six zeros doesn't otherwise affect the value of the currency. The bolivar "will not be worth more or less; it is only to facilitate its use on a simpler monetary scale," according to a Central Bank statement.

This is the third time Venezuela's socialist leaders have lopped zeros off the currency. The bolivar lost three zeros in 2008 under the late President Hugo Chavez, while his successor, current President Nicolas Maduro, eliminated five zeros in 2018.

FILE - In this March 23, 2018 file photo, empty shelves stand in a supermarket in Caracas, Venezuela. A new currency with six fewer zeros debuts Friday, Oct. 1, 2021, in Venezuela, whose currency has been made nearly worthless by years of the world's worst inflation. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos, File)
FILE - In this March 23, 2018 file photo, empty shelves stand in a supermarket in Caracas, Venezuela. A new currency with six fewer zeros debuts Friday, Oct. 1, 2021, in Venezuela, whose currency has been made nearly worthless by years of the world's worst inflation. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos, File)
A street vendor, who sells coffee and cigarettes, counts her dollars in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, Oct. 1, 2021. A new currency with six fewer zeros debuts Friday in Venezuela, whose currency has been made nearly worthless by years of the world's worst inflation. The new currency tops out at 100 bolivars, a little less than $25 until inflation starts to eat away at that as well. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
A street vendor, who sells coffee and cigarettes, counts her dollars in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, Oct. 1, 2021. A new currency with six fewer zeros debuts Friday in Venezuela, whose currency has been made nearly worthless by years of the world's worst inflation. The new currency tops out at 100 bolivars, a little less than $25 until inflation starts to eat away at that as well. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
U.S. dollar bills, belonging to a street vendor, sit atop cigarettes for sale in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, Oct. 1, 2021. A new currency with six fewer zeros debuts today in Venezuela, whose currency has been made nearly worthless by years of the world's worst inflation. The new currency tops out at 100 bolivars, a little less than $25 until inflation starts to eat away at that as well. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
U.S. dollar bills, belonging to a street vendor, sit atop cigarettes for sale in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, Oct. 1, 2021. A new currency with six fewer zeros debuts today in Venezuela, whose currency has been made nearly worthless by years of the world's worst inflation. The new currency tops out at 100 bolivars, a little less than $25 until inflation starts to eat away at that as well. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
Mannequins displaying women's clothing for sale hang from a gate, in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, Oct 1, 2021. A new currency with six fewer zeros debuts today in Venezuela, whose currency has been made nearly worthless by years of the world's worst inflation. The new currency tops out at 100 bolivars, a little less than $25 until inflation starts to eat away at that as well. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
Mannequins displaying women's clothing for sale hang from a gate, in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, Oct 1, 2021. A new currency with six fewer zeros debuts today in Venezuela, whose currency has been made nearly worthless by years of the world's worst inflation. The new currency tops out at 100 bolivars, a little less than $25 until inflation starts to eat away at that as well. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
Produce vendors wait for customers at a market in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, Oct 1, 2021. A new currency with six fewer zeros debuts today in Venezuela, whose currency has been made nearly worthless by years of the world's worst inflation. The new currency tops out at 100 bolivars, a little less than $25 until inflation starts to eat away at that as well. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
Produce vendors wait for customers at a market in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, Oct 1, 2021. A new currency with six fewer zeros debuts today in Venezuela, whose currency has been made nearly worthless by years of the world's worst inflation. The new currency tops out at 100 bolivars, a little less than $25 until inflation starts to eat away at that as well. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
Rafael Rojas sell avocados and garlic on a street in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, Oct 1, 2021. A new currency with six fewer zeros debuts today in Venezuela, whose currency has been made nearly worthless by years of the world's worst inflation. The new currency tops out at 100 bolivars, a little less than $25 until inflation starts to eat away at that as well. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
Rafael Rojas sell avocados and garlic on a street in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, Oct 1, 2021. A new currency with six fewer zeros debuts today in Venezuela, whose currency has been made nearly worthless by years of the world's worst inflation. The new currency tops out at 100 bolivars, a little less than $25 until inflation starts to eat away at that as well. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
Residents walk past mannequins displaying women's clothes for sale in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, Oct 1, 2021. A new currency with six fewer zeros debuts today in Venezuela, whose currency has been made nearly worthless by years of the world's worst inflation. The new currency tops out at 100 bolivars, a little less than $25 until inflation starts to eat away at that as well. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
Residents walk past mannequins displaying women's clothes for sale in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, Oct 1, 2021. A new currency with six fewer zeros debuts today in Venezuela, whose currency has been made nearly worthless by years of the world's worst inflation. The new currency tops out at 100 bolivars, a little less than $25 until inflation starts to eat away at that as well. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
A man shows a new 10 Bolivar bank note after withdrawing it from a cash machine in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, Oct 1, 2021. A new currency with six fewer zeros debuts Friday in Venezuela, whose currency has been made nearly worthless by years of the world's worst inflation. The new currency tops out at 100 bolivars, a little less than $25 until inflation starts to eat away at that as well. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
A man shows a new 10 Bolivar bank note after withdrawing it from a cash machine in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, Oct 1, 2021. A new currency with six fewer zeros debuts Friday in Venezuela, whose currency has been made nearly worthless by years of the world's worst inflation. The new currency tops out at 100 bolivars, a little less than $25 until inflation starts to eat away at that as well. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
A woman purchases avocados from a produce vendor in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, Oct 1, 2021. A new currency with six fewer zeros debuts today in Venezuela, whose currency has been made nearly worthless by years of the world's worst inflation. The new currency tops out at 100 bolivars, a little less than $25 until inflation starts to eat away at that as well. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
A woman purchases avocados from a produce vendor in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, Oct 1, 2021. A new currency with six fewer zeros debuts today in Venezuela, whose currency has been made nearly worthless by years of the world's worst inflation. The new currency tops out at 100 bolivars, a little less than $25 until inflation starts to eat away at that as well. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)

Print Headline: Venezuela rolls out new currency, but dollar still popular

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